Sunday, August 30, 2015

Living Globally

I had an uncle who did not want to travel from home beyond his ability to drive back the same day.  He didn’t like being away from his own bed and wasn’t interested in what might be out there.  That may have been extreme, but I know many who have little interest in travel beyond a few hundred miles except, perhaps, for an occasional trip to a destination well within their cultural comfort zones: Vegas, Disneyland, Branson, etc.  Cultural comfort zones can exist even in more exotic places.  A few acquaintances spend part of every winter in American enclaves in Mexico where they express no interest in Mexican politics and never mix with Mexicans outside of the enclave.  We see some of the same when we are on Maui where some part time residents have little knowledge of Hawaiian culture or history, seldom venture far from the nearest golf course, and don’t interact with anyone beyond their condo neighbors.

I have been surprised by the number of people I knew on the east coast who had never been west of Pennsylvania, and didn’t know or care what was out there.  Likewise, the number of west coast people I now know who have never been east of the Rockies.  I wonder if they could draw a free hand map of the U.S. that was more or less accurate.  Never mind doing the same for Canada.  The globe?  Forget it.

They know the world is bigger than the small part they live in, but their knowledge of that world is comfortably limited.  Globalization is a word they have heard, but it is not a comfortable word.  

Nevertheless, we are all aware of at least something about it.  The word is out there in the public domain.  Moreover, we have opinions about things global.  Two current issues come to mind.  NAFTA, for instance: they may not have a clue what it is, but they are hotly for it or against it.  The same with the TPP: few know what it is but many are sure it’s very bad, or maybe good.  Whatever they are, they are indicators of globalization, which is a scary word because it is a word of meaning without understanding.

It has meaning in the sense that globalization triggers assumptions about jobs shipped overseas, Chinese lending money to America, illegal immigration, political corruption, and so on.  It has meaning without understanding because few of the triggered assumptions about it are based on verifiable evidence.  Americans are not alone in this.  Communities throughout the world behave and think as if the known world extends not much farther than their own village limits, and I think that has to do with never having been much farther than the village limits.  

Oddly, some of us have found ways to travel beyond our villages while taking our cultural comfort zones with us encased in mental village limits.  It creates the illusion of expanded  cultural horizons without actually experiencing them. 

Globalization is here to stay.  It’s driven by the Internet, the ease of global travel,  the interconnectedness of national economies, the ebb and flow of business across oceans and borders, and, in some sense, the universality of educational curricula in the hard sciences, medicine, and business administration.  Those who can live with a global perspective are more likely to prosper.  Those who can’t are more likely to fester, and festering is dangerous.  If the vast majority of us are to live comfortably in a globalized world, we have to get beyond our cultural comfort zones and village limits, but how?

Travel is one way, maybe the best way, but not travel within the bubble of one’s village limits floating from one place to another.  That doesn’t mean impoverished student backpacking.  It does mean taking an active interest in learning about and experiencing the culture of the places you visit, both on and off the established tourist trails.  It means looking at and listening to what’s going on around you with the intent of understanding what it means.  Still, travel is expensive, and not everyone can do it.  I am grateful that, thanks to nothing we have done to deserve it, we are able to travel and do.

Yet there are other ways.  Learning a second language.  Reading books that explore life in other places.  Listening to travelers who have come to your village.  Watching video presentations that explore life in other places.  All of that helps break down the barricades that surround our own mental village limits.  Our nation, and most of our communities, are becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse.  Wading into the local cultures that are different from our own to learn from and honor them is a great way to break down village limits, or at least expand them in an outward direction.  


A closing thought.  Being more comfortable in a globalized world does not mean giving up who you are.  It does mean knowing what your cultural comfort zone is, and stepping outside it from time to time.  It means knowing where your village limits are, and making them as permeable as possible.  I’d like to say that it means recognition that you are not the center of the universe.  That’s not true.  Each of us is at the center of everything we can apprehend about the world about us.  We can’t be in any other place.  But we don’t own the center.  Each of us views the world about us in a unique way that can be similar to, but never the same as, another person’s view.  Everyone is at the center, each in a different place with a different view.  We can honor that by doing what we can to apprehend something of what view others have, and how it defines their cultural comfort zones and village limits.  

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