wa·ter·shed noun \ˈwȯ-tər-ˌshed, ˈwä-\
: a time when an important change happens
wa·ter·shed (wo′tər-shĕd′, wŏt′ər-) n.
- The entire region draining into a river, river system, or other body of water: a list of reptiles found in the watershed.
- A ridge of high land dividing two areas that are drained by different river systems. Also called divide, water parting.
- A critical point that marks a division or a change of course; a turning point: “a watershed in modern American history, a time that … forever changed American social attitudes” (Robert Reinhold).
From The Free Dictionary by Farlex
I recently finished rereading the Chanur Saga by C.J. Cherryh and was struck by the subtly handled major theme of a watershed moment. As you can see from the above definitions, a watershed or watershed moment is a significant changing point in events or perceptions. Up to the point of the watershed, accepted ideas and actions are useful, after the watershed those ideas and actions are useless.
In the Chanur Saga, the main character Pyanfar is from a race known as the Hani. The Hani are modeled after a pride of lions where the lionesses do the hunting and the males are only there to protect the pride and propagate the species. In the Hani’s case, the males remain planet bound. They are coddled by the females and are nothing more than household figure heads challenging each other for the right to rule their clans. Only the female Hani have dealings with the wider universe of the Compact, a tenuous multispecies alliance for commerce where the Hani have only recently ventured. While female Hani have managed to carve a place for their species among the other aliens, they still hold fast to the traditional lifestyle of their species. Males have no place in space.
The watershed moment occurs for Pyanfar when she realizes that the threat an alien leader makes toward her home planet not only portends great loss of life but also the extinction of her species. Unlike the rest of the races in the Compact, Hani males can only be found on their home world. Other species are threatened as well, but they have a chance to survive since both genders are space faring. Pyanfar’s understanding of Hani tradition is irrevocably changed in the face of the fact that their enemies would not realize the effect of destroying the Hani home world. They do not have the same vulnerability.
I wonder if we, as the human race, have had a similar watershed moment. I know our history is replete with moments of great change, but have we had a defining moment where we became aware of how vulnerable we were such that, to continue the way we have, is entirely ridiculous. Well, actually, we have and we are still drowning in the deluge as we stubbornly refuse to let go our old ways. On December 24th 1968, three astronauts sent back images of our world unlike anything we had seen before. Decades later a tiny space probe billions of miles away again reminded us of the truth we learned that day. In the grand scheme of things, we are small and vulnerable.
We are not the masters but tenants on a finite mote in a vast galaxy. Our world is not infinite. The scales, which we had previously taken as grand, are little more than imperfections on a marble set on an enormous table, a marble being overrun by humanity. Yet we still refuse to understand that the garbage we spew into our environment effects people on the other side of the world and vice versa. If we foul up our air with pollution and deforestation, there is no number to call for a refill. The processes that put water and air into our world take billions of years to replenish. We squander them in decades.
Another sad fact is that we are all part of this great machine whether through evolution or divine intervention. What affects our world affects us through biology. Ruining the atmosphere will damage our ability to breath, which in turn changes our temperament when dealing with each other. The more damage we do to the world the more disagreements we will have and the more we will do to ourselves. Nature wants to find a balance and nature’s solution for imbalance is usually death or expansion. Given our lack of growth in colonizing even our own solar system, I fear that nature will turn to mass death. Dwindling resources will put pressures on civilizations faster than solutions can be cobbled together. Man will turn against man; of course, history has shown this singular inability to unite for extended periods of time.
So we drown in our own stubbornness fighting the currents of the watershed. Bones.
Finally, here is a video I watched that talks in the end of how connected we are by even one property, electricity. There is a global electric circuit that connects every part of this planet to the other.