Ok, so if you’re not in the mood for having your mind blown, stop reading right now.
Still here? Ok, here we go.
The universe is about 93 billion light years in diameter. Given that light travels at 300,000km per second and this means one light year is about 9.5 quadrillion kilometres, I won’t even try to express the size of the universe. In short, it’s big, and it makes us incredibly small.
Ok, you’ve probably heard all this before, right? Apologies for the ruse. You already know the universe is big, complex, weird and terrifying/amazing all in one. Your mind is probably not blown at all. But it should be. Because the universe is incredibly awe inspiring. Let’s not forget that.
Like most people, you’ve probably siloed this confronting idea in the deep, dark recesses of your mind and have got on with your morning coffee and emails. Good for you.
If you don’t spend your days working in astrophysics, it is understandable that you probably don’t want to think about this too much. It can easily make your day feel rather pointless in the big scheme of things. It can easily make the activity across the globe and time itself trivialised.
Even when writing this blog, I really needed to make an effort in bringing in the universe example, rather than something more accessible—say, Donald Trump—as it overwhelms me even to think about the universe and existence even for a few small moments. Yet, I seem to allow time for Trump. What a strange fellow he is. But how strange that we can’t stop writing and talking about him whilst something like the universe is there crying out to be noticed.
So, I’ll do you a deal. I’ll get on with writing this and you’ll get on with reading this and then we can return to our simple, coffee-drinking, Netflix-watching, Facebook stalking existence, which is just so much more enjoyable.
But if you take the time to remove yourself from these smaller activities, it is truly amazing to consider we we are a part of something much greater and inspiring than our morning cup of coffee. The universe, and similar concepts that are much bigger than ourselves, promotes awe, recalibrates the ego and can connect us with our peers, society and culture.
Awe is what got the man to the moon as people watched on from the comfort of their homes. It inspired science fiction shows and films, elevating the unknown and passion for space exploration.
Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that awe can also be used for our more immediate and modest goals.
Across several studies, they demonstrated that priming participants with a scenario or memory that inspired awe also promoted more ethical behaviour, generosity and values associated with others and nature, rather than Trump-like ambition and power.
According to the researchers, awe makes us feel ‘smaller’ and connects us with a broader purpose and collective. In one study, simply reflecting on a large Eucalyptus tree subsequently promoted the prosocial values of individuals compared to those who reflected on an office building. Presumably, even nature—its history, complexity and connectivity—can inspire awe.
It seems that efforts to promote teamwork and collaboration within workplaces could be better spent on ensuring the workplace has these moments of awe. All the better if a workplace can anchor its entire vision, purpose and goals behind something bigger and awe-inspiring.
Too often I see workplaces take the easy way out. It is easier to examine an environment that is deficient in behaviours, values, communication, and business plans. It’s much harder to diagnose a problem with purpose and inspiration.
It’s no wonder we notice others so quickly reaching for the computers and smart phones. These are not people who are caught up in an awe-inspiring workplace. Their internet connection is more valuable because it connects them with people, ideas, creativity, and fun.
Many workplaces seem to recognise the importance of vision and purpose as each year they produce plans and write strong ‘purpose’ statements. But how often are these documents really awe-inspiring? The visions and purposes are most often mediocre that are interchangeable with many other organisations. They are basic enough not to offend and vague enough so that the workplace’s activities easily align with the goals. Employees often don’t care too much about the workplace vision and goals and get swept up into the day-to-day tasks that have more immediate implications.
But let’s get back to work now. As important as it is to be inspired, we also have a day job, emails to write and coffees to drink. We have Facebook posts to draft and LinkedIn accounts to manage. Perhaps the universe has a grander purpose that even makes sense of all these emails, status updates and coffees on planet earth?
Ok, now what’s Trump up to today…oh dear.