• Editorial - An Optical Delusion

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    Letter From the Editor

    “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

    Some of you may recognize the above passage as a quote from Albert Einstein in a letter he wrote in 1950 to an ordained rabbi, Norman Salit, who was seeking in vain to comfort his 19-year-old daughter over the death of her 16-year-old sister. In addition to his lifetime attempt to unify into a single, comprehensive theory the laws governing gravity and electromagnetism, his voluminous correspondences reflect a deep conviction that such a unity must exist throughout nature.

    Although it was written nearly 70 years ago when Einstein was 70, the “optical delusion” that we are each separate individuals without unity to all humankind and to our environment seems as apropos today as ever before. At a time when the world appears to be continually shrinking through advances in travel, communication and shared technology, there seems to be a paradoxical increase toward division and isolationism in areas of politics, nationalism, ideologies, race, religion and lifestyles, as well as a lack of consensus on protecting the world in which we live and all its creatures.

    Having reached the status of “seniors,” you and I have witnessed repeatedly the tragedy of the optical delusion, when individuals, various groups and even nations place their personal welfare and interests above that of the larger, global society. The result can be anything from estrangement within families to a threat to world peace and even to the existence of our world. And yet the solution has always been right in front of us: to free ourselves, as Einstein suggests, from the prison of this delusion by recognizing that we are not islands, but that we all share a common bond with each other and with this planet we call home.

    Like many of you, I have enjoyed the opportunity that retirement provides to travel in various parts of the world and to do so in a more leisurely manner than during the professional years, with more time to talk with people and to reflect. One of the things that has impressed me most during these sojourns is that the vast majority of people in other parts of the world, even though they may not agree with our government’s international policies, seem to like Americans as individuals and, like ourselves, yearn simply for peace and unity with each other and with our shared environment. And that is reason for hope.

    So what can we as seniors do to help free future generations from Einstein’s optical delusion and its undesired consequences?

    I suppose we can begin by sharing the lessons of our lifetime of experience: of the pain that we have seen individuals, groups and nations suffer when we see ourselves as isolated from the world community and insist on always putting our personal interests before the common good. But one thing we have learned as parents and teachers is that younger generations pay far more attention to what we do than what we say. In whatever time we have left, maybe we can spend it trying to see ourselves as part of the whole, being less judgmental of those with whom we have differing views, more willing to work together for common goals at home and abroad and more sensitive to the delicate needs of all creatures and of this planet we all share.