I sign all my email messages with the phrase: The Sea Connects All Things. What interests me is that the responses don’t necessarily indicate agreement or understanding of what is a powerful, certain declaration. What does the sentence actually mean? Is it so obvious that it does not merit reaction? Or is it so profound that it defies understanding? Of course, it is both — obvious and profound. Is that a contradiction? A paradox? Or is that reality?
Let’s take the sentence apart.
The sea — easy enough at first glance — but if you think that the sea is confined only to a stretch of beach and watery horizon, if you think that the sea is only a regional body, or if you think that the sea is only a seventh of the world inventory, then you have not fully comprehended the completeness of the meaning. The sea is all these combined, the one ocean on which the continents and islands float, the substance that surrounds and supports the nations, in turn the terrestrial platforms on which we build human institutions.
Connects — also straightforward in the dictionary: 1. To bind or fasten together; 2. To establish communications between; 3. To cause to be associated; 4. To associate mentally or emotionally; 5. To join or unite. These variant definitions can be easily seen to have physical and psychological, social and political connotation. Used in our sentence, the verb declares without equivocation a unifying action, a transitive link between parts conjoined. It is not about inequality or separation at all, but rather about the absolute synergy between places, peoples, actions, and ideas.
All things completes the equation. All things includes that absolute synergy in all its variety and progression, all natural phenomena and human endeavor as we know it. Is it legitimate to say so? I think yes, in that the sea has always been there since the beginning, as asserted in the evolutionary record, historical accounts, social actions, myths, and spiritual beliefs. All things means every thing.
If you are persuaded by this parsing, then you will agree with the obvious and profound understanding of the ocean as the determining system that informs every aspect of our living — from the water we drink and bathe in, to the food and land we cultivate and live on, to the financial and intellectual exchange between us, to the values we apply to live together sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
What we should fear then is the disconnection between the ocean and our lives. And that is exactly what we are facing today. Unthinkingly, purposefully, we are disconnecting ourselves through deliberate actions that interrupt the natural cycles of water and weather, deprive us of the protein we must consume, deconstruct the natural barriers that protect us, and divert and exhaust our resources and energies from the essential requirements for survival in our changing time and place.
This matters. This behavior is ignorant and foolish. Why do we choose this path when it is so obviously and profoundly contradictory and paradoxical? We are not living in reality; if so, we would not enable delusion. We are not being practical; if so, we would assure that our needs would be sustained for generations. We are not being smart; if so, we would apply our intelligence to long-term means over short-term ends. We are not even thinking about ourselves and the ones we love; if so, we would know that our own future is at risk if we do not change our behavior.
The Sea Connects All Things. It is a very simple sentence. Think about it. Change in our lives typically follows a sudden understanding, a clear realization that one thing is different from another, better than another, that transforms our thoughts and liberates our actions. Dare I ask again: will you think about it? If you can accept the premise, then let the complicated work begin.
PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the ocean, transcending conventional emphasis on species and habitat to relate the ocean to such issues as fresh water, climate, food, energy, trade, transportation, public health, international finance, policy and governance, economic development, mega-cities, and coastal traditions. World Ocean Observatory provides links and proactive services to aquariums, science centers, educational institutions, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and individuals to build public awareness and a global constituency for the ocean.