On being a globally oriented citizen

In my more self-deluded moments, I like to think of myself as being something of a “global citizen.” After all, I do some international travel, engage in work that has some transnational relevance, donate to global charities, and gratefully have friends in and from many different countries. Hey, I even subscribe to the Guardian Weekly and the Economist!

In reality, however, I’m yet another professor whose travel experiences, work, and network of friends have international dimensions. I’m just as likely to check on the fortunes of my fantasy baseball teams as I am to click to news stories of key developments in other parts of the world.

By contrast, I know a good number of people whom I count as genuine global citizens. Whether they travel around the world or not, they have a genuine international orientation that gives them a broader perspective on this planet we inhabit. Some, like my friends and colleagues connected with the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, devote significant energies toward furthering peace, social justice, and humanitarian initiatives around the world.

How can we become more globally oriented citizens? This question has been crossing my mind frequently during the past year, especially in the wake of terrorist attacks around the world. Many of us should embrace a broader worldview, thus contributing to a more informed citizenry as a result. Sure, we can attend to our own little corners of the planet, but let’s also look at the world beyond our immediate surroundings.

This could be as simple as paying closer attention to news developments from around the world. It may mean bringing a more inclusive spirit to our lives, one that celebrates variety and diversity and naturally builds bonds with people from other cultures. At its most challenging levels, it can involve trying to understand and address the seemingly intractable differences that are causing so much strife today. For as President Kennedy said in his compelling 1963 speech on the urgent need to curb the nuclear arms race:

And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

5 responses

  1. This may sound like a Cassandra prophecy, but at the rate of climate change that is predicted, within a few decades the sea level will have risen—a lot. Resulting worldwide famine, wars, major dislocations and migrations will make current situation in Syria seem trivial by comparison. Consider that the unrest in Syria began with the cost of food, and that was triggered by climate. So, if we want to be concerned as global citizens, we need to stop burning carbon, and now. Otherwise our grandchildren will face the collapse of civilized society, and the emergence of draconian rule. Surely the future of the planet demands our attention.

    • Yup, climate change and Western consumption are among the growing list of global concerns that we seem to marginalize or ignore. I often fear that with so many of the challenges we know about, but steadfastly refuse to address in a meaningful way, the result will be a giant “I told you so” in the midst of disaster.

  2. Getting rid of borders, which at the moment makes it ‘them’ and ‘us’. I am, by no means, associated with any group calling for borders to be scrapped but wouldn’t that make us true global citizens?

  3. For one, it would be nice to acknowledge the northern and southern hemispheres in writings as well as speaking about ‘people’ as a whole. I sometimes think when the north (deliberately not in capitals) sneezes it is expected the south will say Bless You!
    Not so. Being a global citizen, I believe requires a perception of the other–you know, way down below and a asking how that half lives.

    • Pritima, thank you for your comment. Yes, at least from a Ameri-centric perspective, I think there are several dimensions that we need to see more clearly. They include north/south, east/west, as well as income/wealth disparities that we sometimes marginalize as we cling to the idea of a classless/upwardly mobile society. Looking at our mainstream media and cultural messaging, it takes a concerted effort to regularly grasp those dimensions.

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