Stepping back, what do you see?

May 3, 2021 · Print This Article

“The thing that really surprised me was that it [Earth] projected an air of fragility. And why, I don’t know. I don’t know to this day. I had a feeling it’s tiny, it’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s home, and it’s fragile.”[1]

These words were spoken by a man who was said to have once had the loneliest experience of any human who’s ever lived. This man was Michael Collins, one of the three crew members of the Apollo 11 mission – the first manned mission to land on the Moon. He sadly died last week. But his experience and words live on with us.

He had the job of orbiting the Moon whilst his colleagues Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the Moon. For part of this orbit, he was on the dark side of the Moon, out of contact with any human being. But his experience wasn’t just confined to isolation. He saw something else, too.

Looking back at the blue marble that was Earth, something changed in him. He had a cognitive shift known as the Overview Effect – an effect that profoundly changes someone’s perspective. Staring at this home, away from Earth’s ills, conflicts, and divisions, he had a profound insight.

He later explains, “I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let’s say 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. The all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment.”[2]

These are words we need to hear in our current culture war of identity politics. Seeing people from the perspective of their group identity has led to the rise of what can only be described as tribalism – where one group is pitched against another vying for power and rights. In this scenario, the sovereignty of the individual has been replaced by the sovereignty of the group. This has led us to view groups as either oppressors or victims, and to fight each other for greater rights and freedoms.

I wonder whether we would all benefit from a type of overview effect – from stepping back and seeing one another as family, not black or white, male or female, gay or straight, native or foreigner, young or old, rich or poor. But just a part of a human family, each having great value.

Richard Fowler

Richard is editorial assistant at Because.

[1] Overview effect – Wikipedia
[2] Michael Collins Quotes (Author of Carrying the Fire) (
Photo by NASA on Unsplash
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