What we can learn from the Overview Effect in divisive times

In a week when international politics is dominating the agenda on both sides of the pond, it is easy to see the differences between nations, between parties, and between people. It is tougher to see the similarities, the shared goals and common vision of humankind. But, in times like these, it is even more important to speak out with hope and purpose.

By any standards, it has been a divisive week in the UK and United States. The Prime Minister has stated her intention for Britain to leave the single market, while Donald Trump is due to be inaugurated. I found myself thinking once again about the Overview Effect, the phenomenon astronauts experience when they go to space. Having left the Earth and seen it from thousands of miles away, they gain new perspective on their home planet, and see how tiny the differences are and how great the shared bonds. They return with a profound desire to change the world for the better.

I spotted a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson that summed this up perfectly. He quoted Edgar Mitchell, the Apollo 14 astronaut who sadly passed away last year: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.

“From out there on the moon, international politics looks so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

As we continue to build our own space program with Virgin Galactic, and continue to move into the New Year, I’m determined to keep my own sense of hope in the strength of togetherness and progress. As the late Jo Cox wisely said: "We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us."

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