Social Justice

The Importance of Being a Global Citizen – And How to Become One

This post originally appeared on Kate the Almost Great, a dear friend’s writing, lifestyle, and health blog. I wrote it before the Election of 2016, so some of the names would be different if I were to write it again today, but it is yet again especially relevant as gubernatorial races approach.  

“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” – Socrates

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed how little I used to pay attention to world happenings, let alone what was going on in my own city. Now I understand the importance – and the direness – of staying awake in these times (see a previous post of mine on being a supportive ally during this political era). What I’ve also noticed is how polarized and extreme our dialogues tend to be, even though only 36% of the American population is strongly in one of the two parties on most issues.

There are many theories about why this is the case, but much of it boils down to this: Many of us have strong policy ideologies that overwhelm our knowledge of policy. That is, we know what we would like to see in the world, but do not know what policy would be effective in making that happen. For example, I would love to see America have universal healthcare because it is hard for me to think that 64 million people in the United States struggle to pay or are in debt because of medical expenses. However, I am not the one who is knowledgeable enough to write that policy, so it’s important for me to keep up to date and critically look into details of others’ ideas. Do I want a Bernie Sanders? A Hillary Clinton? A Martin O’Malley? An Independent? A Republican with a different plan, but perhaps one that would end up being less expensive per capita? Would it make more sense for local governments to do that? Is it just totally unreasonable?

As you can tell, there are lots of angles to look at when you’re trying to learn more. Having subjective personal values (ideology) is awesome, but you also need to back them up with objective knowledge (policy). That’s why you read, watch, or listen to the news: to be engaged, whether it’s in your neighborhood or 6,000 miles around the world!

I have a few tips for you to be able to feel more aware of current events, engage in intelligent discussions, and be able to back up what you believe in, whether that’s through online writings, at the polls (VOTE!), or on a bigger scale.

5 Ways To Be a Global Citizen

1. Seems intimidating, but…

It’s important. You have a voice, and you live in a world where that voice matters, especially if you are part of an oppressed group whose voices are now beginning to gain traction in the mainstream media. (PS: Oppressed group = people who suffer because any of the –isms, be it racism, ableism, sexism, etc. and have less power in society than a group with privilege). You will be grateful to be aware!

john-baker-349282
Photo credit: John Baker.

2. Figure out a few things about yourself, like your learning preferencespolitical leaningsareas of interest or even personality type, and so on.

Would it make more sense for you to listen to the news? Watch? Read? Are you more interested in a liberal-leaning or a conservative-leaning viewpoint?* (Find something more centrist so that you will be able to cross aisles in discussion. Find news sources that analyze, rather than attack, viewpoints and people who have them. If you’re going to read a source that leans left or right, make sure to read others’ ideas, too). Will you do these things on a phone, computer, or with a paper or television? Will you prefer Twitter, something more picture-based like Tumblr, audio of NPR’s hourly 5-minute news summaries, or what your friends post on Facebook? And what are you interested in? Domestic or foreign affairs? Any areas in particular: environment, social policy, American foreign involvement, business and economics, etc.?

I personally enjoy Al Jazeera America. It’s a centrist source that canvasses the global arena. Its mobile app has pictures and short summaries of many articles. I’m a visual learner and it’s a quick way for me to stay engaged while I’m waiting in line for something.

3. Set a goal for your engagement.

Will you read a few articles a day? Spend 5 minutes? 10? When and how will you make that time? In my case, I check my social media too much, so when I catch myself compulsively looking, I make that my news-checking time! Instead of using Facebook or Tumblr (again), I open the news apps that I configured to my topic interests.

4. Get started!

At the beginning, you may be out of the loop on certain issues, especially things like international conflicts. Google “summary of _____” when you feel lost. Check a few sources. You can often find short YouTube videos, too. For example, I watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He often has 5 to 15-minute summaries of relevant social issues. He is an example of a global citizen. Just listen to how many different sources he cites!

If you’re really interested in something, you can even go to primary sources. Click on the links that are in the article that show where the statistics came from. Look things up on academic databases. Read the original policies. Search “Congressional Research Service report on _________”.

5. Speak up once you know what you’re talking about!

Here are my quick and dirty tips to effectively express your viewpoint while not isolating others who hold different viewpoints. It’s completely okay to disagree with your family and friends, so long as you do it with respect.

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