There is that infamous statement:
Think globally, act locally.
Ever wondered what it means? Or why it’s important? And how the heck one goes about doing it?
For some reason, I think about these things all the time. Growing up, I was always drawn to seeing the connections between my life and the bigger world. When I moved to Cambodia and lived there for six years, I began to see some of the connections literally – like the factories that produce the clothes I wear and the (mostly) women who make them. Now back in Canada, I continue to walk the journey of what it means to be a good global neighbor.
Here are some of the ways I’ve found helpful in my own journey of connecting with the world. Hopefully in the process, I’m becoming a more thoughtful, active and compassionate global citizen.
Be an active local neighbor.
It was Flannery O’Connor who noted “somewhere is better than anywhere.” The first step in being a globally engaged citizen is to be active and involved where you are. Right here, Right now. Wherever that is. Being rooted in time and place is important for a few reasons. First, when we live face to face with our neighbors, we are more likely to see the impact our decisions (and our opinions) have on others. Digging in to a local community also helps deconstruct the anonymity of a hyper busy, superficially connected and globalized world. Connection is the foundation for empathy. Connection with our closest neighbors is the starting point to connecting with our global ones.
A hundred years ago, neighbor and neighborhood were pretty straightforward. Most people lived their whole lives in the same town or region. They knew the people who tailored their clothes and produced their food. These days, community, economics and trade are really complex. Many people don’t live in the same community their whole lives and most people are disconnected from the people and systems producing the products they use every day.At the same time, we export and import billions of dollars of products to and from countries all around the globe. There is no way around it – through trade, immigration, travel, and the internet, we are deeply enmeshed with the world. So, when we talk neighborhood and community, let’s talk bigger picture.
Consider where your stuff comes from.
A quick glance at my closet is telling. I wear clothes produced by people – again, most likely women – in Indonesia, India, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Kosovo, Haiti, Sri Lanka, and more. Each and every product is made by someone, somewhere around the world. Our stuff connects us to them.There are different opinions on how to shop and where to shop. Whether to avoid sweatshops by purchasing Fair Trade, or local, or second hand. Any of those options are good alternatives. But I wonder if starting at a different place in the conversation might help reframe the dialogue. Let’s start by exploring where our stuff comes from. As we learn who is making our clothes, hopefully we will grow to care more deeply about the people themselves and the conditions in which they work. As we do this, our transactions take on a human face – and when we deal humanly with humanity, then we make a difference.
The overwhelming amount of information about injustice in the world can be daunting. Instead of tuning out and turning into another season of Netflix, consider learning deeply about ONE global issue.
- Interested in supply chains and where the clothes you wear and the food you eat comes from? Research it.
- Curious about human trafficking and forced labour and what we can do about it? Learn about it.
- Worried about the effects of war on children? Check it out.Not only does the process of learning and exploring an issue change the way we see the world, it can provide insight about how to respond thoughtfully and responsibly.
Advocate for policy change
“Advocating for boring stuff like complaint mechanisms and formalized labor contracts is nowhere near as satisfying as buying a pair of Fair Trade sandals… But that’s how the hard work of development actually gets done: Not by imploring people to buy better, but by giving them no other option.” – The Myth Of The Ethical Shopper
It is true that policy change and consistent implementation make the big, positive changes in communities around the world. In the 1990’s, the United States refused to sell clothes made in Cambodia unless it opened its garment factories to regular inspections by the International Labour Organization. Appropriate pressure can make a huge difference.This is where we come in. As citizens of democratic nations, we have the freedom and power of our voice – we can use this to serve others. So, write letters to Members of Parliament and Senators advocating for policy changes that impact other countries.
This one is the hardest thing to do, but so important. My husband and I are parents to three pre-schoolers. Much of our time is spent juggling careers and parenting and trying to keep our house from looking like a bunch of hooligans tore it apart. We make decisions every day that prioritize certain things over others, because we simply cannot do it all. And that’s okay.We’ve chosen to follow through with the things we’re most passionate about, in the space and time we do have, in this hectic season of life.
So, pick your thing. Then go wholeheartedly with the energy and passion you do have.
And keep the words of Jean Vanier in mind as you do:
“But let us not put our sights too high. We do not have to be saviours of the world! We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time.”