Saturday, 18 January 2014

What's the matter?

Sometimes I fret about being late.  Other times I feel overwhelmed by all the things I think I need to do. Sometimes I just worry about worrying too much.

It's only when I take a moment to step back that I realise a lot of what I worry about is trivial and unnecessary.

This week, I took that step back in Geneva, Switzerland.  

Apart from the obvious benefit and clarity the comes from standing 14,300km away from home, I found Geneva gave me three good reasons why we shouldn't sweat the small stuff.

I can't claim my Geneva wanderings were an epiphany, but it was a surprising discovery among the city's watches, fondue, chocolate and suits.

Reason 1:  It's all just matter
One of the most fundamental and logical reasons why most of what we worry about doesn't really matter, presented so eloquently at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research), is that we are all just a bunch of matter - or particles to be exact.
CERN asks the big questions
Unglamourously, it seems the particles that make up you and me were the same particles that once made a tree, a bird or rock.  And, not to be morbid, but they will continue to do so when we die.

It also seems there's a fair bit of nothingness between the clumps of particles masquerading themselves as you and I.  As one of CERN's displays proudly proclaims: "we are made of more than 99.9% empty space".  

It's hard to stress too much when you think about yourself like that. 

I'm pretty sure some people are 100%

CERN is delving into finding the answers to some of the universe's big questions.  How did we get here?  What happened after the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago?

Almost incomprehensibly, 100m under me is a 27km long loop where particles are being slammed into each other at near light speed.  By using the Large Hadron Collider, scientists are recreating the conditions immediately after the Big Bang when particles started to align themselves to form matter.

CERN's Large Hadron Collider
Above ground, CERN is pretty unimposing, looking more like a 1960s uni campus than international science hub.  However, it has a hefty list of accomplishments geeks and non-geeks can appreciate, from laying the foundations of the World Wide Web to the more recent Higgs boson discovery. 

It's only the dazzling sounds and lights of the Universe of Particles exhibition, inside CERN's wooden Globe of Science and Innovation, that you get that a taste of the exciting, life altering, and high-tech future CERN hints at. 

Universe of Particles

Reason 2:  We're all the same
Occupying grander digs across town is the United Nations.  

Palais des Nations, home of the UN in Geneva
Using the same Palais des Nations as it's predecessor, the League of Nations, this UN complex seems a tangible example that we really are all the same.  In its corridors, suited diplomats from the world's nations clutch files and rush to conferences tackling some of the globe's big issues.  

While I like to think that I'm making the world a better place when I draft a media release on a new pizza topping, I have a sneaky suspicion these people's work is actually making it happen.

The United Nations

The Geneva branch of the UN is headquarters to the World Health Organisation, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and a host of other humanitarian and economic agencies.  There's an air of collaboration and goodwill based on the principles that we're all in this together and that your problems are my problems too.

One of the colourful conference rooms
While the UN is often criticised for its perceived lack of action, our guide reminds us that the UN is not a government and goes not make or enforce laws.  For better or for worse, this means it's only ever going to be as effective as each of its member nations.

Reason 3:  Be grateful you're not worse off
Literally across the road from the UN is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, highlighting the work of this famous humanitarian organisation.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

It's a modern, experiential museum asking you to undertake The Humanitarian Adventure that explores three themes: Defending Human Dignity, Restoring Family Links, and Reducing Natural Risks.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

In Defending Human Dignity, the 1864 Geneva Convention is displayed, just one of the many texts throughout history that have called for more humanitarian treatment of others.  
Dignity Trampled Underfoot

A doll made by a prisoner of war and given in gratitude to their International Red Cross observer

Navigating through a room of dangling chains leads me to the Restoring Family Links exhibition, including some of the six million index cards used by the International Prisoners-of-War Agency during World War I to register and chart the fate of more than one million displaced people.  

Index cards from the International Prisoners-of-War Agency tracking displaced people

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