A BBC 2016 poll found that more people identify as “global” rather than “national” citizens. I believe this phenomena is evolutionarily appropriate for our times.
What does it mean to identify with 7.4 billion people on the planet? World citizenship is growing, although it is less common in industrialized nations. I could speculate as to why, but I want to focus on the meaning of identifying as a global citizen.
Who is a global citizen?
At a recent University of Michigan lecture, psychology professor Fiona Lee, pointed to Carlos Ghosn as a model global citizen. Carlos Ghosn is the CEO of Nissan. He is so adored by the Japanese people in whose country he now resides that they named a Bento box after him. He has helped companies turn around financially and improve their economies. Many Japanese want him to run for office. How was he, an outsider in a country with low historical migration, able to adapt to Japanese culture let alone be revered by its people?
Professor Lee offers some answers. In her research, she identifies cultural adaptability, CQ (cultural intelligence), and curiosity as keys to global citizenry. We learn that Ghosn grew up in multiple countries (Brazil, Lebanon, and France), all with high rates of historical migration — a sign that immigrants are welcome — and speaks four languages. His multi-cultural background helped him develop a cross-cultural management style where he emphasizes diversity as a core business asset. “You learn from diversity,” he says, “but you’re comforted by commonality.” Ghosn, it seems, deserves being held up as a model of what a global citizen can look like.
However, one attendee at Lee’s lecture asked, Do we want the CEO of a big company to be the poster child for global citizenship?
The Traveling/Working Global Citizen
It turns out that “Global citizens tend to come in two colors: those who want to help the world and those who easily travel or work outside the ‘home’ country or often connect to others around the planet.” (Identity and the New ‘Global Citizen’, Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2016) I believe these types can overlap. Ghosn fits the type who easily travel or work outside the ‘home’ country. In this case, he does indeed make a great poster child. But this raises the second question asked by the same gentleman at Lee’s lecture:
If global citizenship requires traveling and working abroad, won’t this result in an elitist group reaping the benefits of global exposure?
Interestingly, Professor Lee’s study shows that living abroad is neither necessary nor sufficient for improving one’s cultural adaptability. Cultural adaptability is one of the key traits of global citizenship. Her results show that study abroad students who live with host families, learn the language, and befriend locals increase their cultural adaptability. Those who don’t, maintain or lower their cultural adaptability. What is not so obvious is that study abroad students who do not adapt to the culture (for whatever reason) score lower on cultural adaptability than students who do not study abroad. In other words, one can develop cultural adaptability and increase global exposure, without leaving town. How?
The Connecting Global Citizen
The work of Parag Khanna, a geopolitical expert, offers some insights. Khanna finds that global citizens “often connect to others around the planet” (the second type of global citizen). They see themselves more in terms of ‘connectivity’ than sovereignty, as he explains in Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization.
For this type of global citizen, relationships are more ‘horizontal’ than vertical, more egalitarian than hierarchical. They are also increasingly digital. Thus, there are global citizens who easily travel or work abroad like Ghosn. There are also those who easily connect with others around the globe, without leaving home, thanks to the Internet.
The Helping Global Citizen
But what about the other type of global citizen, “those who want to help others”? I believe their identification as global citizens is part of a growing evolutionary impulse. To survive as a species, we are learning that helping others is in everyone’s best interest. Cultural adaptability and connectivity are some of the qualities of global citizens. Are there other skills that we can develop to become wise and compassionate global citizens? What are they and can we nurture them?
The ability to help others across different cultures requires deep listening. It also requires understanding others’ beliefs and ideas, including religious. Doug Johnston argues in his book, Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, that the failure of American diplomats to understand the role of religion in other cultures has impeded peace making around the world. Understanding other people’s relationship to religion (at home and abroad) is part of global citizenship. This kind of learning can happen in the interspiritual home or classroom.
Global Citizenship in the Interspiritual Classroom or Home
In the interspiritual classroom or home, students or children tour different houses of worship. They participate in those services. Young people can audit the classes of peers in other religious schools. Students might blog with boarding school students in India. Our youth might video-conference about faith, identity, and community with Muslim peers at a school in Jakarta, as mine did. They can do all this without leaving town.
An interspiritual teacher or parent can raise her students’ or children’s religious literacy. When sharing a ‘home’ religion, she can juxtapose lessons with the history and teachings of other traditions. He can help his students or children develop SQ, spiritual intelligence, as well as cultural. These are qualities that are needed to become wise and compassionate global citizens. All global citizens need these skills to be able to work with others to solve the practical, global problems threatening humanity today.
The interspiritual classroom or home is an ideal place to help young people become helping global citizens — whether they do it from home, abroad, or in a cloud.