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Americans as Global Citizens

Celebrate “Interdependence” Day

Two contrasting visions of the future present themselves today. One acts upon and reacts to outdated values of self-interest: cultural superiority, exclusive rights, social injustice, environmental degradation and war. The other responds with values grounded in mutual respect more suited to the new world reality: equity, inclusive rights, social justice, sustainability and peaceful conflict resolution. The first point-of-view fosters danger, darkness and discord. The second yields greater abundance and fullness of life for all.

Today, Americans have the opportunity to embrace a more expansive, updated and urgently needed ethic, known as global citizenship. With rapid travel and instant communications, we have become global citizens. We need to discern what we have in common as we celebrate the differences that enrich human life.

As Americans, we rely upon freedoms that are essential to any progressive society: freedom from want and fear and freedom of speech and expression, as well as belief. But, we are too often insular rather than engaged. Fewer than 20 percent of U.S. citizens have passports. A National Geographic Society test showed that 11 percent of U.S. high school students could not find even their own country on a world map. Fifteen famous writers commissioned by the State Department to write about what it means to be an American for an international digest had no sense of how to write for people who are not Americans.

In such an environment, how can we prepare ourselves to rise responsibly to the occasion to protect other peoples’ freedoms, as well as our own, especially when we are challenged daily by perceived threats and resultant restrictions of our liberties? Solutions are rarely simple in a complex era, but finding answers has never been more essential to the survival of our species.

A global citizen is motivated by local interests, such as love of family, communal fairness and self interest, as well as global interests, based on a sense of universal equality and care for fellow humans, human rights and dignity.

Oxfam International, a confederation working in 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice, summarizes the emerging concept of global citizenship. The global citizen:

 • Takes responsibility for their own actions.
 • Respects and values diversity.
 • Is outraged by social injustice.
 • Stays aware of the wider world and their role as a global citizen.
 • Understands how the world works, economically, socially, politically, culturally, technologically and environmentally.
 • Participates in and contributes to the community from the local to the global level.
 • Acts to make the world a more sustainable place.

The call for change demands that we embrace a life of learning, engage creatively with other cultures and practices, embrace the new complexity of an interdependent world and continually adapt to new realities. A broader vision, embracing and integrating different perspectives, is vital to every member of the planetary community.


Jim Kenney is former global director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, executive director of the Interreligious Engagement Project and co-founder and director of Common Ground, an adult education program based in Deerfield, IL (cg.org).


Primary Sources: www.WorldBank.org; www.Oxfam.org; PEN World Voices statement by Eliot Weinberger.

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