We live in a hyperconnected, globalized world. From the perspective of the individual, this a good, a bad and a confusing thing. Just a few short decades ago, we’d all have cared a lot less about what was happening thousands of miles from us–mostly because we’d have so much less of an idea about any of it. Now that we are aware, we can be overwhelmed by it all. We feel sad about tragedies that have nothing to do with us. We feel scared about events that won’t even touch us. At the same time, we also feel powerful and inspired that a single idea or action of ours might have a positive impact on millions.
Marcus Aurelius was one of the first writers to articulate the notion of cosmopolitanism—saying that he was a citizen of the world, not just of Rome. Which is an interesting and impressive thought…considering his job was as the first citizenof Rome. He also talked about the importance of taking the global view–not seeing things so myopically. But he was also clear, that as a Stoic, what really mattered was his individual actions and his immediate sphere of influence.
This is the difficult balance we seek in the modern world. We must make sure that we aren’t so self-obsessed that our individual actions come at the expense of other nameless, faceless people far away (‘What do I care about starving people in Africa, I’m an American?’) and at the same time, we must not become consumed by everything that scrolls by on the CNN ticker.
There is no clear answer here, but it’s sobering to think that smart people have been trying to find the right balance for some 2,000 years. And so must we. We arecitizens of the world just as we are members of our members of our own families and communities. We should do our duty well in all of those scenarios.
It won’t be easy, but we’re up to the task.