The punch line, if you will, for this TED, by Wanis Kabbaj, is “How can we do both better?”
Though I have referenced this TED recently in the unfolding Leadership & Legacy feature, I have felt drawn to dig a little further into nationalism and globalism, in particular, because the terms are connected with two very old Christian responses of how to be in the world: purity and pluralism.
I believe that the way that Wanis ably describes the secular experience of purity and pluralism is very important. In this time in which the touchstones that many have taken for granted in our western democracies feel unstable, finding ways to construct shared (new) meaning and language is more important than ever.
Globalism (plurality) and nationalism (purity), when framed in opposition to one another, can and do lead to inevitable conflict. When understood as in relationship that enrichens the other, however, the possibility for creativity and collaboration becomes not only possible, but also probable. As becomes clear in the TED presentation, globalisation can bring ideas and concepts that locally (nationally) may not have yet occurred or surfaced. Whether it is a matter of cuisine or technology, those within the particularity of one national context might be able to innovate in ways only they can. When this innovative particularity is appreciated as occurring in global relationships, then all of us – as a species and planet –stand to benefit.
Yet when nationalism is experienced as a sense of superiority, which isolates, the real threat of an orientation to purity develops. Suddenly global interactions within a pluralistic world are no longer opportunities to create, but threats to identity that leads to exclusion and, often, death.
On the other hand, globalism can serve to benefit the few, and commodify people and resources that silences and makes local challenge and/or resistance disappear. In the Christian context, in which pluralism can engender a theology that confuses faith and culture, globalism simply becomes an ideological justification for conversion. Be like us in a world in which there are many faces and races, languages and faiths, but do not question or challenge: to the Roman Empire, this was the Pax Deorum, and a contemporary parallel is Christian colonialism.
Why is this important? As Wanis makes clear, though we may want simple solutions and tend to right and wrong thinking, that has never historically turned out well. It matters whom we choose to listen and be nurtured by. It matters to whom we orient in terms of leadership, not leadership in a command-and-control manner, but one where each of us is a model. A model, in Christian language, a disciple. We must ask ourselves: how do we want to be in order to live in a world that affords the same dignity to those whom will follow. How we choose to be in the world has consequences.
I do not mean to imply this is easy work, but it is life-giving. When we listen to the Other, not with the intention to change or silence, but to learn and share, Wanis’ invitation to do better becomes possible. As an individual (nationalism/purity), when I begin to listen to you, the Other (plurality/globalism), imagination can foster in us dreams not yet dreamed and solutions not yet imagined. In this time in which such realities as climate change and global refugee crises threaten to overwhelm us, I believe better is what we need, for continuing to do what we have limits us. To keep doing what we did to get here, to stay in this inherited box, is not how we do better. To leave something new and sustainable begins with new thinking and being with one another that – ultimately – begins, not with first doing, but with deep listening … for what we learn needs each of us at our best in order for us to collectively thrive.