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A Tiny Problem in a Gigantic Block of Space-Time


Let’s take a (giant) step back and put things in perspective. Really in perspective. What’s the point? To simply appreciate. Why should we appreciate? Because we are often too unkind, too harsh on ourselves, and life really is too ephemeral to live in such constant misery.


Everyone is busy. Let’s face the facts. The manager preparing to present the 5 year strategy of her product team is stressed that it won’t fly with senior management. The customer service representative is stressed that the next customer will reign hell on him and there’s nothing he can do to avoid that, because he has bills to pay. The Olympic weightlifting athlete is depressed about her injured ankle, impeding her to prep sufficiently by the next games. The barista is frustrated that he just messed up two customers’ orders and the queue is growing seemingly exponentially.


My goodness. What a mess, isn’t it? Yet, that’s the reality we live with every single day. All of those situations are mundane – it’s so familiar you may be experiencing an episode of déjà vu. If I’m being blatantly honest with you, there’s no way around it. None of those situations or issues are avoidable. They are inevitable, unpredictable events, and life is filled with them. So, unless you’re ready to abandon society, live in a shell designed precisely to suit your needs and desires, and you have no financial or social obligations, you’re going to have to deal with the flying obstacles throughout life.


But what if I told you that whatever problem you’re dealing with, whatever situation, however tragic or stressful, is negligible in the grand scheme of space-time? Please speak English…you lost me. Oh right, I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to introduce some context. Take a moment to imagine a giant block, which represents everything that will happen in a defined space from the beginning of time to the end of time. What I just described is a finite block of space-time. We all fit into that block, somewhere. Your parents, their parents, their parents, their parents, etc. all belong somewhere in this block. By the same token, a moving car, a flowing river, an egg being fried, etc. also all belong in this block. You get the idea – everything that currently exists, has existed, or will exist is contained in this block of space-time.

Since it’s conceptually hard to compare the significance of a single human’s existence to that of an insect or a propeller jet, let’s compare humans to humans. The US Population Reference Bureau estimates that ~107 billion people have ever been born since the beginning of time (this was in 2011). Your existence represents one in 107 billion. The odds of dying in a plane crash is roughly one in 11 million, and the odds of winning the lottery is roughly one in 175 million (according to Huffington Post). The really OCD readers by now will start to pick apart the comparison (Those are not apples to apples!) Yes, but they are all statistics. What I’m trying to get at is there have been a lot of people that existed before you, there are many that currently exist around you, and there will be many, many more that will exist after you leave this planet. If we then move on to do the math of how many problems (big and small) each individual life encounters on average, summed across minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years, each individual problem, as you can imagine, represents an infinitesimally small proportion of the grand total in this space-time block.


Take a moment to appreciate that. Problems become insurmountable or all-encompassing not because they truly are – I’ve done the proxy napkin math to show you already. Problems become overwhelming because we routinely take mental magnifying glasses, and magnify the crap out of a tiny problem in a gigantic block of space-time until it blocks our line of sight to anything else that is happening in our lives.