Recently I was part of a panel discussion addressing global citizenship and its importance in today’s ever-changing world with the advent of Trump, looming threat of Brexit, the emergence of extremism and terrorism. We spoke about how words like respect, appreciation and open-mindedness were crucial to being/ identified as a global citizen.
For obvious reasons, we deviated and reached a point where we fell into conflict over what really a global citizen was. Individuals expressed that labelling someone as a global citizen, itself, was like ‘putting someone in a box’. People argued that it was a contradictory concept to the ideas of acceptance and empathy we were aiming to grasp as ‘global citizens’ ourselves. Being a global citizen means many different things, and every individual’s definition of it has origins in the kind of circumstances they come from and the experiences they have braved.
When I think what a global citizen is, there are four words that come to my mind: culture, diversity, respect and appreciation. To me, global citizens accept and respect cultural diversity in spite or because of the differences that exist between humans. Of course, what it means to me, doesn’t have to be the same for you. But at the end of the day, for some extent of order and the sake of standardisation, we have to instate a rough idea or definition that could apply to the entire population.
We managed to agree upon the basic idea of global citizenship that somewhat coincided with my version, and we moved on to the issue of language creating barriers between people. We began to discuss how that stands in the way of us being able to understand different groups and communities. Several notable academics in the audience added that, of course, as much as one can learn, one cannot know every single language and speak it perfectly as if he or she is a native speaker. So what could a possible solution to this crisis be?
There’s a simple answer, I think! Acknowledging and paying respect to one’s ethnic identity doesn’t take much, because the smallest of gestures make the biggest difference. If I hear a Bulgarian woman standing at a till – even if I say a ‘blagodarya’ instead of a ‘thank you’ it’ll make her day, believe it or not!
Immediately, a hand shot up. ‘The real language the world needs, is love.’ There was silence, and a young man in the front row continued. ‘People need to learn to love each other again. They seem to have forgotten what love for a fellow human is.’
This is so true. There is so much more to communication than mere words strung together to form sentences that can be mutually comprehended. Of course, language facilitates a higher degree of articulation, but that doesn’t mean that two people, who are not linguistically compatible, cannot converse. I come from a country that has 22 official languages. Of course, Hindi and English are the two official languages that are spoken the most, but I have been to pockets of communities where neither are spoken. I was born trilingual, (I know Bengali in addition to Hindi and English) but that didn’t do much to help when I was to converse with little girls in a small village that spoke a language alien to me, as part of a community service initiative. I used signs and pointed at objects in order to make conversation, laughed and had one of the most humbling years of my life with these girls, all without using any intelligible official language. I can vouch for the fact that language is not as big a barrier we make it out to be.
When it comes to human interaction, one doesn’t merely need a language to convey their thoughts. They need compassion and empathy. It seems to me that people have actually begun to believe that the only form of human validation can be using the medium of likes, comments and shares on social media, because I hardly see people treating each other as fellow humans, ultimately part of the same journey; life. Giving love and showing compassion is, more than anything else, just being human. A simple smile to a fellow pedestrians on the street or a greeting to a Barista has a much greater effect than a mere like, share or comment. When did we forget that?
With today’s ever-changing, fast-paced world, and our quest to find the fastest and easiest way possible to our goal, we have forgotten what being patient is. We’ve become so used to getting what we want immediately, we complain about almost everything. We complain when the Wi-Fi is slow, service at the restaurant is ‘not good enough’ when the food’s just taking a long time to be prepared or the line at Tesco’s isn’t moving fast enough. We’ve become creatures of habit. We’re perennially impatient. We don’t think to stop and smile at the bus driver on the number 29, exchange pleasantries with the sales agent at the local Tesco’s or even stop and help the old lady at the tube station who’s struggling to get past the barrier with her bags. We’re in all too much of a hurry.
We need to stop. Look. And then react. With care, love and compassion. And take it slow from there.
To sustain the world as we know it and to nurture more love and empathy among ourselves, we need to dedicate a little time. Every other person reading this would say ‘Who has the time for such things? We have classes to attend, a job to get to and a household to run!’ But the reality is, that if we lose out on forging real human connections and embracing the art of collaboration, we are the only ones who have everything to lose. For a business to sustain, basic work ethic and attitude is important; for a government to function, good connections and understanding is crucial; for a student to excel, open-mindedness and eagerness is imperative, and at the end of the day, all these qualities have one thing in common. Human connections.
There’s an acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) that is being used to describe the future we’re rapidly approaching. Keeping in mind the political, economical and social evolution that we are witnessing on a daily basis, it is imperative for us to start considering how to approach our future. And, if it is true, that the world we are inching towards, is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous in nature, I strongly believe that one thing which we need to develop as a cornerstone of our character and society, is compassion.
We need to start thinking beyond ourselves and care for those around us in order to keep the environment in a state to be able to keep growing, as growth comes with feedback, and ‘caring’ in its most raw form is the source of any kind of feedback.