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'We are one' leaves out a lot of people

By Brian Holden - posted Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Apollo 11 astronauts stood on the moon and looked back at the blue ball in the sky. They knew that there was only one intelligent species and it lived on just one planet. But they really did not comprehend that knowing until they saw the whole planet in the one gaze. It was a transcendental experience unique in human history.

Over on that blue ball within the vision of one man, there were billions of people who were playing and working, loving and hating - and all were assuming that they had a fair idea of what the truth was. Nobody at that moment knew the truth as those astronauts knew the truth.

Now to return to the world of you and I

I must have been aged about five. I can remember my mother’s reaction when she saw me sucking a penny: “Spit it out. A Chow may have handled it!” All through my childhood we referred to the owners of our local greengrocery as “the Dagos”. And yet, my parents were naturally kindly people. We were trapped in the same group-think as almost all Anglo-Celtics were at the time.


We were predominately of Irish stock. We did not know our history well enough to be aware that in the latter half of the 19th century, English newspaper cartoonists caricatured Irishmen as monkeys. If we saw our ancestors as victims of derogatory labeling, we would more likely to have concluded that breaking-up the family of man to put into various pigeon holes was stupid.

Fortunately, ethnicity is nothing like the problem it once was in this country. But we still have a problem. What are these words saying?

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian.

Clearly, they are saying that we over-here - the white, the black and the brown - are different to the white, the black and the brown over-there. So, with ethnicity no longer the driver of division it once was, nationalism (which will be jacked-up by the prime minister and governor-general into jingoism on Australia Day) is still keeping alive the most primitive of emotions - an emotion which can be traced back to the time when we marked out our territory with our own dung.

If we see ourselves as one with the planet - then we leave out nobody

Argon atoms in the air are inert. They just pass from one lung to the next unchanged. If I place my hand in front of my nose, then the next breath I exhale into my hand will contain at least one argon atom breathed out by Jesus sometime in his 33 years of life. My skin will have a material connection with Jesus! When I first learned of this, I felt as if I belonged to one great organism.

There is more to this than argon atoms. Every atom in my body has been borrowed from the one pool of atoms. Most atoms in my body I will have for no more than about four months before it is returned to the pool. Such is the extent of the recycling between soil, water, atmosphere and living organisms. What remains as “mine” over my lifetime is the organisation of those atoms. That organisation is kept from disintegrating into its constituent atoms by my DNA as it goes about building and maintaining.


The DNA molecule provides a set of instructions for every form of life. It is the arrangement of the parts of the molecule which determines if the organism is going to be a man, an ant or a eucalyptus. That one molecule connects every living organism into the one great living organism.

If we see ourselves as one with a web of lifelines - then we leave out nobody

The understanding of both DNA and the recycling between soil, water, atmosphere and living organisms requires some knowledge of chemistry. However, there is an abstract concept which can be grasped in its entirety with ease and without any technical knowledge. It describes a situation which is unseen - and yet glaringly obvious. One experiences a sobering feeling when first realising that it is there.

There is a web of cause-and-effect which binds every human alive and dead. Consider this hypothetical situation:

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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