Sunday, May 27, 2018

Safe and Sound at the Edge of the Milky Way

The so-called "big picture" is I understand considered by some people as clarifying or soothing; apparently it is reputed to relieve the wrinkles and what are condemned as trifling details. Frankly I'm not convinced the intellectual posture is always the best.  Indeed for the most part I am more inclined to prefer scrupulousness to outline. But certainly the broad view can lessen at least some of the sting of mere enumeration.  The conclusion - like the initial metaphor - is more a sentiment than an analysis.  Consider for example the following story I heard today.

The tale begins with two destitute brothers who live in a rough part of town. The older brother takes care of his younger (smaller) brother who is mentally challenged.  They survive by separating other people from their money.  Each day the older brother goes to the local railway station and looks for a target, someone who appears to have the wherewithal.  On one particular day he spies a gentleman at the bar wearing an Aquascutum trench coat, a Brooks Brothers suit and a Rolex watch.  The intention is to lure the gentleman to the brothers' quarters where foul play will ensue.

However when the next scene opens at the run-down apartment, it is the older brother who is tied up in a chair and the gentleman is watching him.  The gentleman, it turns out, is a seasoned criminal who, upon discovering the brothers' lair, assesses it to be an ideal temporary hideout.  During the period that follows the criminal takes a shine to the brothers.  One day he invites the younger brother to come with him for a tour about the city.  But the young brother objects because his older brother has told him that he will get lost if he leaves the apartment.  The criminal later returns to the apartment with a large map which he sprawls out before the younger brother.

The criminal says to the younger brother, "This red mark is where you live. You are in this borough of the city. Your city is in this province in this country. You are part of the earth which is in this galaxy. You are safe and sound at the edge of the Milky Way."

It is hard to know how to read the observation.  Certainly it smacks of enthusiasm. It seems to afford an escape from fear. It is obviously a reminder that we're mere insects on the planet and even smaller particles of the universe, all of which tends to make a mockery of our sometimes petty obsessions. Looking at the world so abstractly is of necessity diminishing on a certain level. Whether this constitutes sufficient reason for abandoning our erstwhile details is another question. It may be fractionally persuasive in that it instills a less personal assessment of our current condition. Viewed from this remote perspective it is difficult to argue that all our concerns have merit.

Yet the abstraction ventures dangerously close to promoting being out of focus - not all that far from the "ignorance is bliss" theory.  This of course competes nicely with the "devil is in the details" proposition which is an idiom that can mean anything from the mysterious elements hidden in the details to the more original interpretation that whatever one does should be done thoroughly (that is, details are important). No matter what  principle one choses to adopt there remains the paramount debate about how wide is the scope of our well-being. Will we permit ourselves to become mired in the details of our experience or will we instead opt for a larger view of our unpredictable future?

Years ago I met an accomplished lawyer in what began as a testy relationship on behalf of our respective clients.  I distinctly recall the day I finally met him in person at his office. He came up to me with his hand extended and said, "I'm a deal maker not a deal breaker". It was a turning point in our professional relationship.  We both knew all the details as advanced by our clients.  But we instantly changed the direction of the focus by adopting an intention of positivism and optimism.  In the end we were safe and sound at the edge of the Milky Way. It was a palpable consolation for our clients to remove themselves from the relentless confusion and contradiction of their less than abstract opinions. While not every difference of opinion will awaken so readily to this particular option I cannot help but feel that it at least enables an acceptable conduit for the possibility.

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