Saturday, March 2, 2013

Think Globally, Act Locally

Yesterday’s post is an example of thinking globally—about the big picture, the big time frame. The “global” also represents a dimension effectively out of tangible personal reach. We participate in the formation of the great collective future, but any one person’s action is, from the global perspective of nearly 7 billion people, virtually invisible. Therefore global thinking has its counterpart in local action.

The paradox hidden in this pairing, however, is that, ultimately, the only way to shape the future is by local action. Supposing that, locally, the only place where action is possible, all of us began, to quote from Monique’s comments on my “Apocalypse,” to be “kind, cheerful, trustworthy, generous, and true.” What would be the consequence? Positive change would be the consequence—although it would take a while. My guess is that certainly a year would pass before we saw something—because people would be so utterly astonished, they would be shaking their heads in wonderment for at last several months.

But joking aside, the truth is that all of us live at the local level. The global just mirrors back the quality of our thoughts, attitudes, understanding, and the actions that flow from them multiplied…7 billion times… and then spreads out again until a tiny portion of it reaches us again, locally.

Thinking globally does not produce cheer—but it does produce a realistic attitude. It helps us identify regions of weakness and of strength in the environment, physical and social. And keeping those in mind in how we act and what we choose to do, will eventually, as we act correctly, compensate for ills and realize the visible opportunities. Realism is a genuine benefit of global thinking—provided that we act on it where we happen to be and in doing what we happen to be doing.

A prevailing view at present—and it is one of the weaknesses of our time—is the belief that collective action is the only meaningful one. Therefore the continuous drumbeat of persuasion—trying to make other people act so that we get what we want. Another weakness of our era is its belief in relativity. Kindness, cheer, trust, generosity, and truth are anchored in something absolute, also present only in the individual. Actualizing these in action, which is by definition local, produces change for the better. It will not produce Utopia, but it carries its own reward, even when things are trending downward. When right action is pursued, it raises us, as individuals, above the fog of war.


  1. Ah, very well put.

    The funny thing is, there is truth in this idea that collective action is meaningful and can have a positive impact on the world. It can, but not, I think, if its primary goal is to change the world. I need to think through how to explain what I mean here...

  2. There is, of course, local action that involves the collective -- minimally bothering to vote. And in a way public service, generally -- which, at one time, I thought was my calling. In actually working at the EPA, I experienced certain "correctives" to that aspiration.

    1. True, true, but I was thinking more about how it all works a bit like the body, or, as John prefers to think of it, like a team. If every part of the body (member of the team) just does its job—earnestly and properly and to the best of its ability—then the whole benefits enormously from the collective outcome. But, I guess one could argue that this is different from collective activity at least of the sort I imagine you are imagining.

      Having thought about it all a bit now, it suddenly seems what I'm saying is too simple and obvious. If we are all good, conscientious, hard working, thoughtful and all that jazz, the world is a better place...