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The rise of the global citizen

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falconphotography/ Flickr

Katerina Mansour
       Staff Writer

The term “global citizen” is one that used to really bother me. I viewed it as an arrogant, self-proclaimed status that almost never truly described the person using it.

As if a single individual could ever be a citizen of the entire world. As if one could ever travel and learn enough about the vastness of our world, its people and its cultures.

But as time has passed, I’ve grown to better understand the term and understand this new role that millennials have often claimed for themselves.

Rather than it being an arrogant claim that one knows everything about the world and could even begin to understand the world’s numerous countries and peoples, it appears to me now that it is more about being a globally engaged and conscious human being.

Global citizens are those of us who care about our world, advocate for it and aim to love and protect its people. Furthermore, it entails a level of cross-cultural understanding, intercultural skills and a level of awareness, which I believe is a very new phenomenon, from the past decade or so. However, it can also take a negative turn, which I will address near the end of this article.

The role of the internet and its influence on the extent of globalization is clearly a significant factor when thinking about the ways in which we may view ourselves as global citizens.

The internet has made communication between countries instantaneous, encouraged and easy. Our economies are all linked. Our cultures are intermingling as travel has vastly expanded. Our ties to each other, politically and socially, have drastically increased.

More importantly, journalism has been revolutionized. Within seconds, we can become aware of a crisis occurring hundreds of thousands of miles away.

This was not always the case and most certainly did not use to be as accurate and reliable as it is now. This heightened availability of information and increase in global investigative journalism has brought us knowledge that oftentimes shocks and appalls us. Human rights violations, war crimes, corruption, environmental issues, hate crimes, are all instantly brought to our attention, which helps us understand how messed up our world truly is.

Millennials have increasingly engaged in activism throughout social media in order to bring an end to perceived problems in the world.

We have come to see ourselves as a significant chunk of the population, and therefore a group of people that can readily bring about change.

We know what is going on in the world, and we choose not to ignore it; we choose to do something about it. Well, many of us do, at least.

We have drive, creativity and a budding intellect. We are becoming more and more educated than people within our age group used to be in previous decades.

We are far more invested in ensuring that our fellow human beings live a quality life, harm-free. We care, sometimes not enough, sometimes too much.

We try to educate those of us who are still ignorant of what is going on in the world, and to the privileges they have as citizens of the U.S., a country with incredible opportunity, stability and protection of rights.

I can only imagine that we will become more and more enlightened as time passes by. Is this a good thing? Well, that is debatable.

I was born in Greece, lived in Saudi Arabia for a bit, grew up in France and later moved to the U.S. My father is Palestinian; my mother is American. I grew up traveling the world. I suppose, in many ways, I embody the global citizen.

An important factor of being a global citizen, in my opinion, is concrete action — something that is arguably lacking in huge portions of our millennial population.

The rise of the internet has also brought laziness and a new form of ignorance in terms of the effectiveness of “internet advocacy” through social media. Despite how revolutionized and globally engaged we like to describe ourselves, we are still reluctant to be proactive and physically involved in making change.

Rather, we sit behind our laptops and phones thinking we’re making a difference. We trust that think tanks, IGOs and NGOs will help bring justice to the world. Sometimes, we trust them a little bit too much.

We are so quick to allow institutions to do all the physical work for us, rather than get actively involved with them or questioning the work they do.

Do you want to save starving children? Just throw some money at that NGO that says your donation will feed a child for a month. Don’t look into it. Don’t question it. Don’t ensure that your money gets where it needs to go. Just do it. You’ll feel better. And, after all, this is a reputable organization, so you can trust that they are doing good!

As millennials, having grown accustomed to the convenience and rapidity of the internet, we have come to overemphasize the ways in which social media can advance our causes. We overestimate the value of our dollar donation, of our petition signature or of our “like” or “share” on Facebook.

As critically as we might tend to think of the world, we oftentimes become uncritical of our own institutions and ourselves.

We seem to have a blind-spot, which in my opinion has been created by the illusion the internet has created in our minds, leading us to believe that our small actions can lead to big changes. As much as I’d like to believe in that, I can’t, and you shouldn’t either.

As a global citizen, I urge you to be involved beyond sharing news articles or other informative links on your Facebook, Twitter or Blog. Starting a petition is not likely to make real change. Making donations can be helpful but only if the organization to which you give it is actually putting it to good use.

Educating your friends is good, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean much. Don’t let the internet trick you into thinking you’re more engaged than you truly are. It is a powerful tool, but it cannot solve all the world’s problems, and neither can you.

My conclusion is that I am proud to see how engaged our generation has become, but I am also weary of the influence we perceive ourselves as having on international events and affairs. As millennials, we need to maintain a level of realism and self-awareness.

Education and awareness are two fundamental aspects of being a global citizen, but it doesn’t end there. Because of this, I don’t believe that just any of us can be a global citizen.

To me, if you’re a global citizen you’re actively working to make a difference, not just clicking buttons on your phone.

Do we all need to be global citizens? No. Can we always have an influence? No. Are we going to save the world? No.

So let’s please try and avoid letting our perceptions of ourselves as global citizens do more harm than good through the flawed belief that we are capable of changing the world one click at a time.

Am I suggesting that the internet is not an effective tool to promote change? Not necessarily.

I am confident that the internet helps us in our advocacy; however, it takes a whole lot more than a few Facebook clicks or blog posts to do this.

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