The Overview Effect

Christmas Eve 1968 began as any other day. Unless you were a part of the crew of Apollo 8. The Apollo 8 astronauts gave the world a Holiday gift many people have never fully appreciated. They gave us Earth-rise, a simple photo of the Earth in waxing crescent. The image quickly became one of the most well know and iconic photos in human history.

This image is special for a number of reasons. One of these reasons was the psychological impact recorded by the astronauts after seeing the Earth in this manner for the first time. What these astronauts experienced would become what is known as The Overview Effect. The Overview Effect refers to the “profound reaction to viewing the Earth from outside its atmosphere” creating as one astronaut describes, “an overwhelming sense of oneness and connectedness.”

Let’s take a trip back to 1968. What was going on in our world during this time? America was involved in a full-blown war, civil rights and social justice movements were on the rise, women were fighting for equality and sexual liberation, any of this sound familiar? Could we all agree we are fighting a very similar fight today?

So let’s get back to why the Earth-rise image important. It is important because our worldview or perspective fuels our motivation.

When do we get involved in social justice? When it affects us personally.

When do we stand up to bullying? When it affects us personally.

When do we fight about economic equality? When it affects us personally.

When we only look from one perspective, usually our own, we naturally are unable to see anything outside the scope we have set for ourselves. Earth-rise reveals that from at least one perspective, we are unable to see individual people, we can only see the greater object.

Below are a few, quotes from actual astronauts describing their experience of the Overview Effect:

“You…say to yourself, ‘That’s humanity, love, feeling and thought.’ You don’t see barriers of color or religion and politics that divide the world.”

“Before I flew I was already aware how small and vulnerable our planet is; but only when I saw it from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that humankind’s most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for future generations.”

“From space, I saw Earth—indescribably beautiful with the scars of national boundaries gone.”

If we are able to see outside ourselves as individuals from The Overview Effect perspective, shouldn’t that blow open the possibility of humanity seeing outside ourselves and our needs from other perspectives?

The Earth-rise image fuels the idea that humanity should not be so isolated in our own individual worldview but rather that we are an integral part of a symbiotic process that works best with all creatures working in harmony. 

Addressing the topic of worldview, author Tim Keller writes,

“Everyone knows that things in this world are seriously out of whack. No one claims that this or her own life is as it should be, let alone the whole world. There is something wrong within us. Nothing ever seems to make us happy or fulfilled except in the most fleeting ways. There is also wrong among us. The world is filled with poverty, war, suffering and injustice. Something seems to have been knocked off balance. But what is it? Who deserves the blame? And what is the solution? As soon as you begin to answer these questions, you arrive at a story that you will begin to live out. We are wired to move thought our lives chasing and rehearsing narratives that will promise to bring the world back into balance.”

The Overview Effect, a greater sense of connection to one another, needs to become one of our culture’s rehearsing narrative. Only when we begin to break down the man-made barriers we have erected will humanity truly begin to embrace the idea of living collectively as one species.

We must invest our energies in collaboration and cohesion.

The more our culture invests in division, the less likely we will ever experience a reality like the Overview Effect. It is only natural that division clouds the collective and collaborative parts of our mentality. We are being divided daily and we must take measures to prevent further fractions in our collective species. Fractions today take the shape of mass incarceration, polarizing political figures, and vast economic disparity. Now more than ever humanity needs a removal from our individualistic mentality. We need to embrace our collective unity and begin to re-build areas broken by division. Will it take another image for us to see how insignificant we really are? It might. The change could start with you and me, stripping down our unhealthy perspectives and replacing them with new, holistic perspectives. Whatever happens, we have the option to decide how to move forward.

So the question I leave us with is…

Now What?

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