Being a Citizen

In the mid-90s, I took a five day scenario planning certification workshop put on by the Global Business Network.  One of the most intensive moments of the workshop was the half-day interaction our eight person working team had with a woman who was a sports reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.  She was introduced as one of the first woman sports reporters to win the right to enter professional locker rooms after a game.  I had heard about her for years and was delighted to have a chance to meet and interact with her.

As part of her introduction to our group, she talked about her passions in life.  I was all ready to hear about sports. Instead she said her passion was to improve education as she was so proud to be a beneficiary of Title IX legislation which provided for equality in women’s sports.  She then went on to describe that it was a great advancement for diversity but more importantly a sign of how we needed to be different citizens.

I asked her to relate her passion for education with her notion of citizenship.  She went through an eloquent history of how K-12 education in the US was all about creating both better citizens and students who could populate the factories of the industrial age.  She related that we no longer live in either of those conditions.  She described her years of covering the Olympic Games and International Sports.  She talked about how confusing it was at Olympic Games where ostensibly nations were competing. Yet, everywhere she looked global brands were vying for attention, even more so than the different national flags and emblems.  And most everybody spoke English.

She looked at us all and said so what are we a citizen of now? – the United States, the world (in the McLuhan sense of the global village), or of Global 1000 Corporations (like Nike, Samsung, IBM) or the Tom Friedman notion of the Lexus and the Olive Tree.  With the internet, global social networks and the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with peers from all over the world, what are we a citizen of?  I am a collector of good questions that I want to regularly revisit.  This is one of those great questions you could form a syllabus around – what am I a citizen of?

As I travel the world both on business and for personal education, this question of what am I a citizen of is never far away.  Growing up there was no question, I was a citizen of the United States.  Then I started working for and with global corporations and realized that my identity was more closely aligned with the global reach of our business then with the physical citizenship of my country of birth.  In the process of this travel, reading international newspapers was always a journey into how “filtered” my US citizenship news sources are.

Then as our technology infrastructure proliferated global communication capabilities and my work brought me into daily Skype meetings with a development team in Shanghai, China, an executive team in San Francisco, and their software architect in London, England, I really began to wonder where our collective citizenship was.  With a click of a button, I can be in voice, video, and shared desktop communication with anyone with an internet connection wherever they may be in the world.

In parallel with the ease of travel and the telepresence of technology, I also enjoyed the visionary musings of those authors positing a global brain such as Willis Harman and Teilhard de Chardin.  McLuhan further shared his insightful look into the impact of cool and hot media on the shrinking of global space.   I will never forget the paradigm changing image of the “earthrise” taken from Apollo 8 in 1968 which changed forever our earth centric view of the universe.  Frank White in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution described so eloquently the mind shifts that the astronauts to the moon experienced.  So should I be thinking about being a citizen of the universe?

While the question of what am I a citizen of is always top of mind, it also calls into question what is the larger purpose of education in creating future citizens?  We view public education as a right of our country, and we still use it to create citizens of the United States.  Isn’t it time we revisited the larger purpose of education and expand the view of citizenship to include the world in the McLuhan sense?  How do global businesses and their ever present brands shape our view of citizenship?  Am I part of the Nike Country every time I wear the Nike logo?

At some level, the answer is all of the above.  But what are my rights as citizens of these other domains?   Do I get to vote?  Do I have to pay taxes?  What does the collection of entities that I am part of provide me?  Maybe it is time to go back and re-read the wonderful sequence of books from Orson Scott Card starting with Enders Game that sheds so much light on the many different aspects of a citizen of earth and the universe.

Or maybe it is just time to go back to John F. Kennedy’s quote:

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

And then ask ourselves in the context of how we define citizenship, how we would update this quote?

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