On developing a global orientation

Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic, during a 2017 visit for a law and mental health conference (photo: DY)

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, though, 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 favorite sports 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 bonafide 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 friends and colleagues connected with the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network and the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, two wonderful organizations on whose boards I serve, devote significant energies toward furthering peace, justice, and humanitarian initiatives around the world.

How can we become more globally oriented citizens? This question has crossed my mind often and seems especially important right now, as we continue to grapple with a global pandemic and face a world increasingly impacted by climate change. Ironically, these developments threaten to turn us inward rather than outward, restricting international travel (a marvelous way of expanding our horizons) and causing us to protect our smaller circles rather than advancing the well-being of the broader global community.

For those of us who have leaned towards being more local or national in our outlook, it requires intentionality to view the world through a wider lens. This includes paying closer attention to news developments from around the world. It means bringing a more inclusive spirit to our lives, one that celebrates variety and diversity and naturally builds bonds with people from other cultures. And, when possible, travel can be part of the picture. In the words of Rick Steves, the popular travel author and educator:

Of course, travel, like the world, is a series of hills and valleys. Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something’s not to your liking, change your liking. Travel is addicting. It can make you a happier American, as well as a citizen of the world. Our Earth is home to over 7 billion equally important people. It’s humbling to travel and find that people don’t envy Americans.

. . . Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity. It helps you understand and appreciate different cultures. Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life. Many travelers toss aside their hometown blinders. Their prized souvenirs are the strands of different cultures they decide to knit into their own character. The world is a cultural yarn shop.

And, at its most challenging levels, building a global outlook involves trying to understand and address the seemingly intractable differences that are causing so much strife and division today. For as President Kennedy said in his moving and 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.