I was in Washington, DC for work a couple of weeks ago and made a point to stop by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
I love the inspiring quotes from his speeches that line the walls on each side of his statue, such as the following:
If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.
Being born abroad, raised in a Baha’i family, and traveling widely from the time I was in middle school, I have had a global perspective from a young age. I consider myself very blessed to have had those world-embracing experiences, but also realize that not everyone has such exposure to our global village in their formative years–or maybe even later in their lives.
For some people, abstract principles like world citizenship or the the oneness of humanity–central themes of the Baha’i Faith–are too big to get one’s head around and, thus, can be somewhat paralyzing when considering how to act upon them. But, I think the key point is to raise one’s “consciousness” of these principles. That can happen, without getting on a ship or an airplane, at an individual level with simple goals like creating friendships where you live.
So, what can you do locally if you don’t have the resources to travel far, but still want to broaden your horizons and develop relationships with those from other cultural traditions? Of course, there’s always the internet, but too often it can keep people stuck in “echo chambers” where they converse solely with those who think, act and look like themselves.
So, if you’re willing to leave your house and, perhaps, “get out of your comfort zone,” the ideas below offer some practical ways to globalize your network:
1. Join and get involved in international organizations focused on global affairs. In many cities and towns in the United States, for example, you’ll find local affiliates of Global Ties, World Affairs Councils, United Nations Associations, or Sister Cities International. Peace and interfaith organizations exist in almost every country as well, and make great places to find and foster meaningful bonds with “the other.”
2. If you are feeling particularly bold and generous–and have a spare bedroom–how about hosting an international exchange student? AFS Intercultural Programs operates in over 60 countries and the relationships developed through these exchanges can create lifelong bonds. My husband and I hosted a high school student from Spain for part of one summer. Communications were pretty basic, but I still have fond memories of all the activities with the larger group of students and their internationally-minded host families.
3. If you take courses at a college or university, try getting involved with an international student club. Although an American citizen, I was very involved in such a club–and International Week activities–as an undergraduate. Being in Florida at the time, most of my friends were from the Caribbean, South America and India. It was the highlight of my university life and, decades later, I still maintain strong friendships from that experience.
4. Refugees often feel vulnerable and alone. Volunteering with an organization like the International Rescue Committee (IRC)–which operates globally–can put you into direct contact with those from countries in crisis, who need a lot of help and support to navigate new environments. Such service can also fine-tune your qualities of empathy and gratitude.
5. Finally, attend a holy day or devotional gathering sponsored by your local Baha’i community! A central tenet of the Baha’i Faith is “unity in diversity” and its members tend to come from very diverse racial and ethnic communities.
The one-on-one relationships you develop from any of these activities might seem small, but they can also serve as the catalyst for change when done alongside others on similar paths. In essence, this kind of home-grown international outreach creates a “ripple effect,” not only where you live but across the planet.
Abdu’l-Baha, when traveling to Paris in 1911, commented on this theme:
Nothing is impossible to the Divine Benevolence of God. If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men. – Paris Talks, pp. 29-30.
A quote from the Baha’i Faith’s founder gives further context for why these efforts are so critical–and especially relevant today when so much “fear of the other” has infected our communities and media environments:
Illumine and hallow your hearts; let them not be profaned by the thorns of hate and the thistles of malice. Ye dwell in one world, and have been created through the operation of one Will. Blessed is he who mingleth with all men in a spirit of utmost kindliness and love. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 334.