Our great moral challenge is to cultivate the habits of a critical, yet compassionate, global citizen. Photograph:( Getty )
By Laura D'Olimpio*
The erosion of trust in a civil society is one of the greatest moral challenges facing the world today. Democratic societies are anxious. Leaders, and the general public, are worried about extremism, terrorism and radicalisation. Educators and experts are rightly concerned about those who perpetuate approaches that resemble indoctrination. Such threats are making us less trusting of others, particularly of those we see as somehow different from ourselves.
A remedy may be found in educating people to be “global citizens”, who are not just caring, but are also critically engaged with ideas, beliefs and attitudes exhibited across the world. These global citizens can help to rebuild the lost trust in civil society in an increasingly diverse and globalised world.
The good life
In order to live among others in a harmonious manner, we must recognise that others wish to live a good life, much like ourselves. As Tim Dean points out, the “good life” looks different for different people at different times. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the good life.
The expression of diversity is an important component of a world that celebrates liberty. Yet such freedom must be coupled with respect and care if we are to have any hope of promoting ethical decision-making on a local, national or international level. We must think of ourselves as alike even amidst our diversity.
As individuals who live in communities, we must co-operate in order to achieve our goals, whether they be small or large. A life is shaped by our interaction (or lack thereof) with others: family, friends, colleagues and strangers.
We crave and seek out connection and a sense of belonging. With the technological tools available to us, we may now connect at any minute of any day with people we have never met in places we have never been.
The importance of trust
Trust is one of the most important pro-social attitudes we have. Philosophers such as Annette Baier and Martha Nussbaum have written about the vulnerability as well as the necessity of trust.
If we don’t trust others or treat one another with respect and compassion, our interactions can be unsettling, sources of anxiety or even fear. Yet, if we approach others as friends – as more or less like me – a reciprocal and mutual goodwill is shared and is conducive to pleasant interactions and life-affirming experiences.
Granted, blind trust is as dangerous as blind faith. Trust, and compassion, must be accompanied by an appropriately engaged critical mind. But we must not go so far as to think that trust and care are unreasonable just because the world is a scary place.
As I have previously written, empirical studies conducted in the United States demonstrated that people think the world is a less trustworthy place than previous generations. However, proportionally, crime has not increased. What has increased is the number of crimes reported in the broadcast news and the amount of news we consume.
Reading too many sensationalised news stories may lead us to perceive the world as an unhappy, unfriendly place in which people are not to be trusted. Yet if this really were the case, it would be very difficult to go about our daily lives. Our perception matters, and how we see others and how we are seen shapes our experiences in the world.
The global citizen is someone who recognises others as more alike than different from themselves, even while taking seriously individual, social, cultural and political differences.
Global citizens come together and unite in the recognition that we should all care about planet Earth and that all people have a shared interest in living well.
Caring about others we have never met and who may seem very different from ourselves can be a challenge, particularly in a climate of fear. Yet there are some well-known voices calling for such a compassionate and inclusive attitude to be adopted.
Peter Singer defends the concept of “one world” and Kwame Anthony Appiah supplements this idea with his writings on cosmopolitanism.
Martha Nussbaum highlights the importance of cultivating our “inner eyes” and being able to “see the world from the perspective of minority experience” as a way of overcoming fear and intolerance.
In her bestselling No Logo, Naomi Klein notes that, “with globalisation, there needs to be some common standards”.
All argue in support of the notion of the global citizen. In a pragmatic sense, global citizens will support policies that extend aid beyond national borders and cultivate respectful and reciprocal relationships with others regardless of geographical distance, gender, religion or race.
Global citizens are compassionate even while being critically engaged in a search for truth and wisdom. They make use of technology (social media, blogs and wikis) to further their understanding as well as their causes. They have the skills required to be creative and adapt to the rapidly changing global market.
Granted, all of this may not be easy to achieve. There are certainly educational aims that must be considered if we are to cultivate the habits of a compassionate, yet critical, global citizen. Yet I, for one, believe these educational goals are worth striving for.
The great moral challenge is to find a way to live together ethically as global citizens, and celebrate the connectedness of our technological world.
*Laura D'Olimpio is a senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Notre Dame Australia
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)