By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner
On Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, was launched aboard Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket from the ELA-3 Launch Zone of Europe's Spaceport at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana.
Why is this important and why am I writing about it you ask? Bear with me as I explain.
According to my Wikipedia research, the JWST was a project led by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. As many of you may know, NASA is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and space research. Also note that the JWST was launched aboard Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket. Arianespace is a leading was completed in collaboration with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Together French global satellite launch services company and, according to its website, is a leader in launch technology and operations. Founded in 1980, it deploys a family of three launchers – Ariane, Soyuz, and Vega – to meet the needs of commercial and government customers. While NASA led this project, it with the United States and France, eighteen other countries have contributed to its development and successful launch since its inception in 1989.
The JWST is intended to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA's flagship mission in astrophysics. It is designed to provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble. It will view objects up to 100 times fainter and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology. Its observations will include some of the oldest, most distant, events and objects in the universe such as the first stars and formation of the first galaxies.
As I learned more about the success of this program, and the collaboration of thousands of people over the years from a variety of countries and locations, I wondered this. How can a task of this magnitude be accomplished while at the same time, we cannot seem to get the leadership and participants of the two major political parties in our country to collaborate on the many issues dealing with governance? They fight over everything. If a Republican says the sky is clear and blue today, a Democrat says no, it is partly cloudy and gray. If a Democrat describes the events that took place on January 6 as an attempted takeover of the government, a Republican describes the same events as a peaceful demonstration. I am certain that at many times during the development of the JWST, there were significant disagreements on design, cost, production, and a myriad of other tasks. Yet somehow, a large number of different personnel with different languages, diverse backgrounds, different approaches to their work and different opinions were able to pull together to successfully complete this project.
Compare this effort with many of the different news reports you see on television or news stories you consume. It does not seem like a day goes by without one of our political representatives spewing vitriol at another. If a Republican says something about a topic, a Democrat must disagree with it or condemn it. If a Democrat puts forth a suggested solution to a problem or proposes a specific piece of legislation to deal with an issue, a Republican must shower it with his/her disdain. The name-calling and finger-pointing that takes place is worse than I what occurred in my elementary schoolyard. It is often so frustrating I simply want to throw my arms up in disgust and just cower down in my Covid-free sanctuary at home.
Commentators, newscasters, bloggers, politicos, editors keep calling for cynicism and criticism to stop. Yet at the same time they publish articles, stories, and broadcasts that add fuel to the fire. Their coverage of the news in this stilted fashion happens with such frequency that it makes me want to react like network news anchor Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, in the 1976 movie film “Network”. I want to scream his infamous line: I’m as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”
But my frustrations aside, is there any hope for change? Can we do better in the way we communicate with each other and how we deal with each other’s points of view? In the late 90’s we were headed in a similar direction then 9/11 pulled us closer together. Do we need another event like that to bring some level of rationality and cooperation to the bodies who govern our country? To reduce the screaming from the right against the left and vice versa by members of the ordinary citizenry?
It is pollyannish and foolish of me to think that I can affect change in the behaviors of public leaders. But I can affect my own behavior and try to do something at my level in society to create more positive energy in my community. As I go forward in 2022 and beyond, I am going to try to engage more people around me in conversation about difficult topics and promise to listen without judgment. I want to understand why others believe the things that they do, even if I do not agree with them. To start, as I engage with others, I intend to ask them to share their point of view on controversial topics. I will listen to what they have to say; I will seek to understand why they support a particular point of view. I will carefully explain my point of view without attempting to convince them that I am right. I hope to do so in a manner that allows each of those with whom I engage to walk away from the conversation with an understanding of my meaning and for me to walk away with an understanding of theirs. I do not hope to change anyone’s mind. I just hope to broaden their perspective. And I hope that I can listen thoughtfully and carefully to their points of view and broaden my own perspective. I just want to try to open the dialog doors a bit and have fruitful, meaningful, and educational conversations. I am optimistic that if I can conduct my conversations in such a fashion that some degree of change will occur, however small. And this change could occur in myself, as well as others. It will move individuals closer to understanding each other. And a better understanding will lead to mutual agreement on how to solve problems. At a minimum, it will help reduce the noise and the acrimony.
And I hope my thoughts have helped provoke some thoughts in you. I hope you will help to bridge this divide in your own way, in whatever fashion you prefer. After all, if thousands of people who came from twenty different countries and different walks of life, could contribute to the development and successful launch of a scientific breakthrough that will see things beyond the universe that we have never seen before, each of us as individuals can speak to each other in a way that helps us see the other in ways we have never seen them before.
As always, I am interested in what you have to say. Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.
And if you enjoy my writing, there is always more of it in my book at www.amazon.com under the title “Think Straight. Talk Straight.”