I did something I normally don’t do – watch an inspirational video. I was looking for inspiration for this week’s topic – global citizenship – and I found one of the best definitions I heard for a term that often sounds hollow. But this one stuck – it’s from Hugh Evans’ TED talk ‘What does it mean to be a citizen of the world?’:
‘A global citzen is someone who identifies first and foremost not as a member of a state, a tribe or a nation, but as a member of the human race, and someon who is prepared to act on that belief to tackle our world’s greatest challenges.’
I know, I run a careers service, which isn’t exactly the most glamorous or heroic of occupations – but then my job is to help people realise their potential, at least in work terms; and sometimes a little bit more. Well, my job is to sit in meetings to run a service that does the cool stuff, helping people. Now I’m nowhere as cool as Hugh, or any of the examples he holds up – but not everyone can be a hero. Even the Avengers need back office staff, and everyone who works with me knows that I run an effective office.
I am also lucky to work for a university that has global citizenship written into its organisational values, with numerous alumni actually working to improve the world in some form or another. So I get to work in education (which is good for people) and help with building people work on global career outlooks (which is good for people as well). What’s not to like?
Even better, I got one of those global careers myself – I learnt four languages (and I’m not counting Latin, because, well Latin), and I’ve lived, studied, worked in three countries, and thanks to freedom of movement in the EU I can work and live in what I always thought was the best city in the world. So I guess, I’m one of those global citizens as well.
Or am I a citizen of nowhere?
But it seems we’re living in a world where we’re being told by some people that living like this is not so cool at all. Not the trying to help make the world a better place – no, everyone thinks that’s just peachy – or at least they say so. Well, actually some have a really warped view on that, if you look at the debates regarding helping refugees – let’s take Germany’s example – a fairly toxic term has been used by those opposing helping refugees or others (no excuses, that’s what they want); Gutmenschen. Literally, it means ‘good humans/people’ – and it’s being used as a derogatory term. As if wanting to do good was some form of naive phase which people should grow out of.
Sounds silly? This is not confined to my home country. All over, we have people popping up trying to tell us what we thought were good values, are actually bad things. Nope – I’m not talking about Trump (I think this is a whole different league and something altogether more sinister) – but here in the UK, we have a prime minister who believes ‘a global citizen is a citizen of nowhere’. Now to be fair, I think the effect she was looking for was to look tough facing that elusive global elite who rob ‘normal people’ of their economic chances (and fund political parties) – but in the anti-immigration ‘British people first’ fest that was the conservative party conference, it came over as if she was talking about people like me – and maybe you. Highly educated? Travelled to work somewhere else, especially the UK? Dare to use the social system in which you pay in? Yep, that’s me, and probably you.
So we come to the Brexit rant
They are promoting a Brexit whose values are diametrically opposed to those of global citizenship. The message is to think of ‘your own’ first before you think of others. To counter this clearly: the only way forward is together, any step away from togetherness in achieving our goals is a step backward. See – I told you I’d bring Brexit into this somehow.
In the TED talk this becomes clearest is the part Hugh talks about parochialism (from 13min onward) – and Brexiteerism is exactly that; the ‘looking after our own first’ mentality. This is so hilariously outdated in a modern interconnected world. That is why I think Brexit will ultimately fail in its aim to win back control – because the more you try to control seismic shifts (like the immigration you badly need to keep your economy and health system running), the longer you wait to deal with their consequences – or you become complicit in making them worse. A global citizen looks beyond that and sees the changes they can make. I will continue to do so, even if the country of my choice is currently hurtling into the opposite direction. Opposing Brexit – not for reasons of having a better ‘deal’ for the UK, but because it’s the ethically better choice – makes me a committed Remoaner, and a citizen of nowhere.
You take it, you own it!
Owning what you are being called is important. In the fictionalised words of Mark Ashton in the excellent movie Pride – whatever term throw they throw at you (and however abusive or derogatory) – ‘you take, you own it’. So, even if our prime minister tells me that it’s not good to want to be a global citizen – I want to be a global citizen. What do you want to be?