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Think Global

© 2014 by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

Whether I like it or not, I am on this planet and it is far
better to do something for humanity.
The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

The world is shrinking. The worldwide web, global media coverage, and the ever-expanding ability to travel are making it almost impossible to separate ourselves from others, even if we wanted to. And with deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, from both a scientific and a spiritual perspective, it’s becoming clear that we impact the world one way or another, for better or worse.

In the 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram formulated his concept of “six degrees of separation.” The idea is that anyone in the world can connect with anyone else in the world in a mere six steps. You start by contacting someone you know, who then contacts someone he or she knows, and so on. Six billion people . . . and every one of them only six steps away from you, whether ”The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names…” says a character in John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation.

Perhaps now, in the twenty-first century, there are even fewer than six steps between us all. With the internet, it’s easy to announce our presence and allow the world to beat a path to our door. And as we make all these connections with others near and far, it becomes clear that our diverse world—political disputes and wars notwithstanding—is becoming one interconnected global system. It is as if we are all individual neurons in an awakening global brain. What we think and do affects others on a global scale as never before. Like it or not, the role of “global citizen” is being thrust upon us.

How will we rise to the challenges of global citizenry? First, we must realize that the world is my family. Media coverage ensures that we no longer isolate ourselves from the harsh realities of the world—natural disasters, malnourished children, mothers dying of AIDS, fathers trying to find food for their families, war-torn cities where people live their lives never knowing where or when the next bomb will go off. Sometimes peace feels futile, and the abolishment of hunger and poverty from Earth hopeless visions that should have happened a long time ago. Sometimes we wonder how we could ever make a difference in the face of these things.

But you don’t have to travel to other countries or work for an international organization to be a global citizen or make a difference on a global level. Start local. Start in your own house. Annual Earth Day activities (April 22 this year) now bring attention to a myriad of things we can do in our immediate home and office environments to contribute to a lessening of global warming and the greening of our planet. American Idol raised $30 million last year for world aid and introduced a whole new generation of young people to the joy of philanthropy. Even the smallest gesture can influence in ways far beyond the imagination.

A wonderful story illustrates this. Vicky Edmonds of Seattle thought she was a nobody with little to give to the world. She was about to leave for a vacation cruise with her family, when suddenly she saw television footage of a Jamaican child orphaned by the devastation of Hurricane Gilbert, the worst storm of the century according to some. Her first thought was: Somebody should do something to help these people! It was followed immediately by: I wonder if I’m somebody?

A small idea emerged. Describing what happened to her small son on the way to pre-school the next morning, she decided to ask other children in his class to donate cans of food to send to the children of the stricken area. One parent couldn’t get to the store and sent a check for $50 instead, so Vicki bought food, leaving a little money to pay to ship it to Jamaica. But donations kept arriving, and a local paper ran a story about the project. Before she could comprehend what was happening, the $20 worth of food she had envisioned sending had mushroomed into 1,454 pounds of food!

One airline volunteered to ship the food to Florida. The cruise line, whose policy was to leave a trip’s itinerary intact even in the event of natural disasters, took it the rest of the way. Serendipitous events at the other end occurred, too, ensuring that ultimately, and miraculously, all the food was delivered to children.

We are bigger than we think. Our influence spreads wider than we know. “One thought fills immensity,” wrote the poet William Blake.

And in the words written by Ted Perry for a 1971 environmental movie (commonly attributed to Chief Seattle): “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all.”