5.9. Act Locally…and Act Globally Too

Don’t misinterpret “think globally, act locally” as an excuse not to concern yourself with doing anything bigger.

“Think globally, act locally” is an expression that originated in the environmentalist movement of the 1970s and ‘80s.

It was a slogan that tried to call attention to how the actions we do, here and now, can have huge consequences for the environment.

So far, so good.

But increasingly, this expression is being taken up to mean something different…and, in my opinion, kind of dangerous.

It’s when the meaning of the phrase gets twisted to suggest that it’s okay not to act globally.

It’s when the implication is if we want to make a difference, we should be content to give back to our local communities…because trying to make a difference on a bigger scale just isn’t worth the effort.

Sometimes, it’s even used to suggest that the only way to actually make a big difference is through a bunch of little, local efforts!

I’m not here to bash community service. Local initiatives are great. I think everyone with the means ought to find a way to make their little corner of the world a better place.

But it can’t just be the only thing we do.

Because the distress and suffering we see in our local communities are caused by bigger processes.

No matter how removed you feel from the broader world, what we see and experience in our daily lives is the result of vast political, economic, and social forces, manifesting locally, here and now.

When we do service in our local communities, we’re essentially cleaning up the messes made by the worst of those forces…but we aren’t doing anything to address the forces that caused the mess in the first place.

We’re like a dog owner, cleaning up dog poop in the house…without training the dog to do it outside.

We’re like a janitor, mopping up a leak…without fixing the leak itself.

We’re like a doctor, treating the symptoms of a disease…without bothering to search for an actual cure—or better yet, a vaccine.

To really make a difference, we have to act locally…and act globally too.

We have to go after those big political, economic, and social forces that cause the poverty, illness, addictions, mental health issues, domestic abuse, and other problems we see in our local communities.

And yes, that’s extremely hard to do.

But we can’t let that discourage us.

There are seven and a half billion of us on this planet. If even a small fraction of us came together…we could act globally.

We could address those big political, economic, and social forces that cause so much of the distress and suffering we see in our communities.

But if we imagine all we have to do is give back a little to our local communities, pat ourselves on the back, and go about our lives…we won’t be able to generate the kind of coordinated action we need to address those forces.

So don’t misinterpret “think globally, act locally” as an excuse not to concern yourself with doing anything bigger.

In its original meaning, that slogan has some value. But when it becomes an excuse to avoid taking greater action…it can be misguided, unhelpful, and even cowardly.

 

This is the 85th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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