I just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir last night. It was one of those books that is an easy engager from the first sentence. And, honestly, one of the few books I felt that the movie did justice for. There is a particular sentiment that struck me after completing the book that made it relevant to SJS. And, without spoilers, I want to address it.
Mark Watney is an astronaut stuck on Mars after his crew was forced to abort a mission and thought him dead(This is in the summary, I do promise no spoilers). We follow his story through log entries, where we see a humorous, intelligent, and downright resourceful guy trying to learn to survive. So one might think it’s a typical “man vs. nature” set up, but the difference is Watney. Watney reminds me of Tom Hanks in Castaway; despite tremendous odds retaining his sense of humor and irony, retaining who he is. He also has a lot of time to think, given he is the only living life form on a planet, and his musings are not to be discounted.
My favorite Watney moment occurs when he discusses how far humanity is willing to go to help another person. Now, there have been countless jokes about how much we have spent saving, or trying to Matt Damon, who played our Mars explorer, throughout his career($900,100,500,000 if you were curiosity[get it, because curiosity is the mars rover…nevermind, back to the point]), but in reality, “what cost would we put on a human life?”
Now I have a lot of favorite Watney moments, but the social worker in me had to jump on the chance to talk about what he believed about people. See, despite his castaway status, despite looking at the almost certainty of his own demise, far away from everyone he’s ever known or loved, and despite not knowing how far Earth would go to save him he still believes in the power of people coming together.
“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”
We are seeing attacks occur across the globe. From Paris to Brussels. From San Bernardino to Boston. From Syria to Istanbul, it might seem that there is no safe haven. That perhaps, Mars might make for a less stressful life, but what Watney is expressing and idea that people are inherently hardwired to want to help. And I believe that. I don’t believe that 99.99% of the population, when faced with a choice to help or to not wouldn’t try. I believe that at the end of the day we can see past our differences, past the pettiness, and build bonds not walls. We don’t need someone trapped on Mars to find that out, we see it every day. As our old friend Mr. Rogers taught us, “look for the helpers.”
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