We are often reminded of how insignificant we are as individuals (or even as a race for that matter) in the grand scale of time and space in the universe. We are but a tiny, invisible dust particle on the map of the universe and we make up a sliver of time in the history of everything. This is a reminder that we should be humble, that no matter how great we think we are, we are nothing in the eye of the universe.
Then again, sometimes it is nice to remember that we are significant. Consider this. For you to have been born, generations after generation of couples have had to produce a child. You are the product of 4 billion years of evolution. 4 billion years of unbroken lineage, from the primordial ooze to bacteria to fish to amphibians to reptiles to rodents to primates. If even a single couple in that chain decided not to have an offspring, you would not be here reading this. Of course, this also puts you under the pressure that you may be the last one in that 4 billion-year chain not to reproduce, but let us ignore that for now.
Now consider the stars. When you look upon the night sky and see the twinkling of a star, what is happening is that photons (light particles) are hitting your retina and triggering a signal that is sent to your brain and interpreted as twinkling. Those photon generated by the star you see have travelled light years through the vast universe until your retinas rudely interrupted its journey. The closest star to us (excluding the sun) is Alpha Centauri, located 4.37 light years away. 1 light year (distance travelled by light in a year) is just under 10 trillion kilometres, meaning that those photons you blocked had travelled at least 41 trillion kilometres – or 41,343,392,165,178,100 metres. All you had to do was exist in a certain location and look up at the sky.
Some might say that you are puny and insignificant compared to this astronomical scale. But another way to think of it is that you effected real change in the universe (even if it was blocking a particle of light). No matter how small you are, no matter how short your life is compared to the history of the universe, you are not insignificant. Chaos theory (better known as the butterfly effect) dictates that even the smallest change in initial conditions can lead to unpredictable, widely diverging outcomes. For all you know, your existence is the difference between the existence of life on a distant planet somewhere.
So never say that you are insignificant. And if evolutionary biology and astrophysics is not enough to convince you, then look around you. The people you have met and interacted with throughout your life are affected by you in one way or another. For example, a compliment you paid in passing might completely change the person’s day. A simple act of kindness you thought nothing of could be recorded in someone’s life book as a life-changing event. Even a smile can make a difference. You are significant.
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” ~ Mr. Rogers