I hate aliens.
Not the immigration kind; I’m talking big-eyed, squishy, green monsters that supposedly live in a galaxy far, far away. I’ve always found them utterly ridiculous and irrelevant, because really – don’t we have enough to worry about here on Earth without spending all our time scanning the night sky for mysterious flashing lights that turn out to be helicopters or rogue weather balloons?
What could entertaining the mere idea of aliens possibly do for me other than waste my time?
It’s the same kind of staunch skepticism kids express in math class – because honestly, when am I going to use differential equations in real life? Well in the case of aliens, we encounter them all the time. Again, I’m not talking expats, I’m talking creatures that hold beliefs so separate from our own that we can barely understand how they operate. They walk like us, talk like us, and are known by many names. To some, they are “Liberals”; to others, “Conservatives.” They are called “Pro-Life” or “Pro-Choice”; “Atheists” or “The Devout”; “Gay Marriage Supporters” or “Traditionalists.” They’re also often called “Crazy” or “Ignorant” or the ever-classy “Moron.” In essence, aliens are everywhere – because they’re everyone.
When we meet another human being who sees the world from a wholly different perspective than we do, it really can feel like trying to communicate with a squishy green man who lives on a flying saucer. We gaze upon this person with mixed awe, not knowing whether to laud his or her ideas as innovative and advanced, or criticize them for being primitive and idiotic. Our inability to understand them leads nowhere fast, and oftentimes the best we can do is simply shake our heads, laugh it off, and try to forget the whole encounter. Like how I treat science fiction. Star Trek? I chuckle in veiled condescension and keep my opinions to myself. Because after all, I know that aliens are dumb and space is irrelevant.
Of course, it’s kind of a hard position to maintain when I own a copy of the latest Star Trek movie. And copies of Star Wars, Episodes IV through VI. And the complete series of Joss Whedon’s space-Western,Firefly, the spin-off movie, Serenity, and an N7 jacket I proudly wear because I can’t seem to get enough of the Mass Effect universe.
Because as it turns out, through years of reluctant experimentation, I’m more of a space fan than I could have ever dreamed.
That’s the mixed blessing that is freedom – when we’re free to believe whatever we want, inevitably our beliefs won’t jive with other people. Sometimes we’ll get funny looks, be snapped at or laughed off. Sometimes we’ll be the one doing the laughing, because we’ll come across something that looks like total nonsense and we’ll feel inclined to dismiss it without a second thought.
But if our immediate reaction to differences is denial or dismissal, how can we learn anything? Growth and change certainly aren’t about blindly agreeing with everyone just to smooth out any awkward encounters of a ridiculous kind – but sometimes taking a moment to think about a different point of view can teach you something about yourself or the world at large – or even the endless universe.
So I’ll amend my previous statement: I don’t hate aliens; I’m just particular about them. Who knows – I may not like something like Battlestar Galactica or 2001: A Space Odyssey if I tried them. But regardless, now when I look up at the night’s sky, I see more than what I used to. I feel a certain priceless humility. And so that’s what I’ve gained from entertaining one trivial, improbable idea – endless possibility waiting somewhere in the black.