Even if you weren’t born 50 years ago, you can’t help but appreciate the profundity of Apollo 11’s achievement on July 20, 1969. It is one of those events that is meaningful for virtually everyone. I have three special reasons why I attach significance to that July 20 evening.
1/ The first is entirely personal. To set the stage, back in July 1969, I was closing in on five years old. That night, my parents hosted some friends to watch events unfold on the small black & white box like 600 million others around the world. I can say that night was remarkable for two small steps… Rather than write out the whole story, I submitted my souvenir of the night as an audio recording to the BBC Global News podcast. My story was aired at the end of the July 17 2019 episode… Here it is (time-stamped) via my favourite podcast service, Overcast. It lasts less than a minute.
Click on this link: overcast.fm/+Ip8WHWfQE/. [Taken down] As I have said, it was one small step for this boy…
Meaningfulness that unites
2/ The second reason is that, whatever your souvenir, this remarkable feat touched and united people around the world (at least outside the USSR). At some level, there was/is a universal understanding about the magnitude of the achievement. We see in Apollo 11’s successful round trip an exploit that is supra-earthly.
The realization today, however, is that we are missing any semblance of a unifying concept — at every level of society, to say nothing of globally. You might have thought, for example, that climate change was right up there as a possible unifier. But alas, we prefer to battle for our ever-shrinking sense of community. As a result, we can’t seem to get agreement on any substantive course of action, through which we might find we have more in common than not.
Building a future
3/ The third key point is linked to the fact that today is my daughter Alexandra’s 20th birthday. She was born thirty years and a day after the moon landing. But, what future are we painting for this younger generation? I believe that my generation — and those with influence — need to participe in crafting a more robust and realistic vision of the future. We need to take responsibility for how we have gotten to where we are today and start to ask the harder questions and debate the more thorny issues… with an oft- forgotten civility. The other day I was struck by how, while taking a short train trip, I felt the need to talk lowly about important matters that will affect the future. The reason? Because of the fear of offending a stranger or having our conversation taken out of context.
These important questions cut across party lines and even suggest a re-evaluation of our democratic process. We must look under the hood of the far right movements to gain due insights into what is going on. We need to be having conversations that are at times not politically correct. And I — as a stale, pale male — should not feel barred from openly discussing issues that media and universities are preferring to shut down. It’s not that I want to exert privilege. It’s that we need to find a way to have civil conversations that cover meaningful content.
Self-awareness and common sense
It behooves us all to take a strong look in the mirror and to consider that it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. For the younger generations’ sake, we need to be prepared to find a terrain of entente and to stop thinking that “only I am right.” Many have sacrificed much to get us here. Short of another grand unifying theme, we will need to grind out our new path forward. And it will take a far greater step than Neil Armstrong’s effort. It will require greater self-awareness and a whole dose of humility and common sense.
Your thoughts are welcome!