Current events and the changing political landscape are challenging us to reflect carefully on what it means to be a citizen in today’s world. On the one hand, we are being asked to consider closing borders, retreating to our racial or national communities, and clearly delineating between “us” and “them” as a way to stay safe. While it is one strategy, I would suggest we need to do the exact opposite. Never has it felt more important to be open-minded, step into the world with humility, enter into new situations with flexibility, and respect and embrace every aspect of our humanity so that we can collectively ride the waves of change.
I was first challenged to think about what it means to be a global citizen when I was 15 years old. I had just started a 6-month foreign exchange in a small town in Germany. After three weeks, I hardly spoke the language when the local farmer visited us one Sunday morning, dressed in his Sunday best. When he came in, we were eating breakfast. He did not accept anything to eat and, after the customary amount of small talk, announced the purpose of his visit: he wanted to ask me, as an American, why President Reagan chose to deploy the Pershing II Missile System on German soil in November of the previous year.
My German wasn’t good enough to understand the question, so I got to work studiously translating the words and trying to understand their meaning; all the while, the farmer sat patiently waiting for an answer. When the question began to make sense, I realized that it was not only the language barrier that impeded my ability to understand the question, I realized that I did not know anything about what he was asking. In very broken German, I humbly told him so.
When I think back on that time, I realize how galvanizing that experience was for me. Instead of shrugging off the farmer’s question and excusing myself because I was only 15, I decided that I had a responsibility to be informed, engaged and attuned to the world around me. I chose instead to allow that experience to influence the direction of my life and I am so glad that I did!
Since that time in Germany, I have learned that living as a global citizen is not only about having the opportunity to experience different cultures first-hand, it’s also about the mindset and consciousness we bring with us on those journeys.
I have found through my career, as well as through the examples set by some of the great leaders I have worked with that global citizenship begins with a learner’s mindset — one that is open to possibilities, embraces diversity of thought and being, and recognizes and celebrates our common humanity at home, in our communities, our places of work and ultimately, in our infinitely interconnected world.