All Those Who Wander Are Not Lost

Genetic anthropology demonstrates that human populations have been on the move for the past 200,000 years. We have been migrating from continents and immigrating to countries ever since African Eve -- the First Woman of Fearlessness -- walked out of Africa. As the first known female genetic ancestor of every person alive today, she proved we all share a common ancestor and therefore, all of us are related. I like to think she had a vision for herself, and for humanity and that in her quest for life, liberty and happiness, she saw the big picture. Peaceful coexistence in a world without squiggly black lines we call country borders. We do not exist without her drive, tenacity and open mindedness. None of us would. As she ambled across those planes and forests, waded through the swamps and trekked up the hills, I can't help but think that she not only had a yen for wanderlust, but a desire to do the right thing. I'm happy to trace my deep ancestry to her. We all ought to be. We've got optimistic genes in us all.

In a globalized world, people no longer move merely as a cog in the wheel of evolutionary survival. Rather, it has taken on a heightened sense of urgency for prosperity. Those arbitrary lines on our maps are man-made but the earth belongs to us all. While those lines have created fascinating cultures, humanity now seems destined for something bigger. It seems poised to transcend those black squiggles with all the ingenuity and spirituality the globalized world can muster because the globalized workforce must move across the boundaries of countries and continents to make a better life. This is the 21st century reality. Oddly enough, not every person, country or culture has caught up with that idea, especially the developed nations that practically invented this hot, flat and crowded world of moving people.

What Is Globalization?

In order to understand the globalized world, I like to share an email I received a while back by a cross-cultural colleague who said that globalization looked like Princess Diana's death. And I thought, what an absolutely morbid and inappropriate thing to say! When I asked why, he replied:

"Because she was an English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend, who crashes in a French tunnel, in a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian drunk on Scottish whisky, chased by Italian Paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles, treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines. This email was sent to you by a Canadian, using American, Bill Gates' technology and you're probably reading this on your computer, that uses Taiwanese chips, a Korean monitor, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by Indian truck drivers, hijacked by Indonesians, unloaded by Sicilian longshoremen and trucked to you by Mexicans."

You get my meaning.

Improving the quality of life means different things to different people. Universally, though, despite cultural and religious differences, it can mean relocating for a career advancement, improving your financial future or immigrating because there are better educational and job opportunities for your kids. No matter what the reason is, people have moved, are moving and will continue to move. The pettiness of America's immigration reform xenophobia diminishes the globalized opportunities it was instrumental in creating. So it's incumbent on countries, like the U.S.A., reap what they have sown. To seize the change we have created and accept the human capital for the opportunities it creates. Yet, in my country of opportunities, success depends not only on what it can offer the world, but on what the world of people can deliver to the country they now call home.

A Two-Way Street

For populations that come and go, the givers and receivers of countries, cultures and nations, there are gains and losses on both sides. There is no movement without change. No success without risk. However, this is the very process that has shaped the success of the U.S.A. and the American character. According to the cross-cultural literature, America is the most individualist-oriented culture compared to the rest of the collectivist-oriented world. Eighty percent of the rest of the world puts the needs of the group before the needs of the individual because fundamentally, people are born dependent and connected. While American individualism (or independence) may be hard to understand, it's not only desirable, but necessary.

Americans created (and practically invented) that singularly unique and remarkable quality, because they were unafraid of people moving either to the U.S.A. as immigrants, or within its borders to continue that momentum of success, achievement and opportunity, after they arrived. This mobile behavior benefits the entire planet. It's the change that fosters prosperity and improves living standards. With success comes risk and no one knows that better than a pioneer. The success of globalization has created a new reality (cooperation, synthesis). The pioneers who venture out (loss, thesis) and the host nations who receive them (gain, antithesis) form a new paradigm. People move the information, goods and services that are making globalization happen.

The "American way" of life or elevated standard of living is being aspired to by hundreds of millions of people around the world, especially the BRIC, but not as Americans understand it. We have a hard time understanding the hybrid versions of it. Many nations retain their political ideology and social values while embracing American free market capitalism. Oddly enough, like Americans, it is human nature to innovate, not copy.

On the other hand, what happens when leaving what you know behind is met with rejection? What about the perception of a "selfish" America by new immigrants? It's important to know that upon closer inspection, the pioneering mindset of the U.S.A. means that Americans take care of themselves and expect others to do the same. Independence, or self-reliance, is a key American virtue because it means to be self-supporting. Films and TV show heroes, usually ordinary individuals, save the day (or the world) by acting on their own, sometimes bypassing rules and authorities and ignoring group opinion. This is the mindset -- for better or for worse -- that paved the way for the freedom to forge a better life.

Take the Tibetans and China, the Mexicans and America, the Middle Eastern people and Europe. Each one of these cultures fears losing their cultural identity and sometimes refuses to adapt in one way or another. They have created cultural conflicts and sometimes, outright rejection by the host culture or, on the other hand, may be a result of the immigrant rejecting the notion of total assimilation which was commonly adopted during the mass wave of immigration to America during the 19th century. However, those immigrants also chose to move here for a better future. It's a two way street though, and the nature of immigration is changing. How and why people move, migrate and immigrate, and when and where they will go continues to unfold.

If scientific evidence tells us that the journey of our fearless African Eve was driven by insufficient resources, food and land, then not much has changed. Today people still move for much the same reason, only now it's with a heightened sense of peace and prosperity. This is what it means to get globalized, fearlessly. To be unafraid to pioneer the idea of lifting yourself up and out of your current state of being, wherever that may be.

While America is no longer considered a "melting pot," it is still a country where there's a high chance of engagement among people of other cultures. Now we use the "salad bowl" metaphor, symbolizing the American Kaleidoscope -- in which different cultures mix, but remains distinct. At the same time, the days of the Great Wall of China or the Berlin Wall mindset of isolation is all but gone with the exception of countries like North Korea. People, countries and cultures that resist globalization, erecting barriers, are failing to ride the waves of culture and miss the opportunity for a better future. All that's left is the useless ethnocentrism that isolate and limit subsequent generations who may feel lost without a sense of belonging anywhere, much less cultural identity. What was considered home for one generation, may be something very different for another. While it's understandable that change brings uncertainty, tolerating risk comes with the territory of pioneering new frontiers.

Face It

This is the spirit that welcomes differences -- like America can -- along with new ideas and a different type of unity, one that may not be visible just yet, but may be looming, just over the horizon. Just as African Eve could not know what future she would bring humanity, our future may also unfold in ways we cannot imagine either. It may be that the globalization which first emerged from the American shores may evolve into something quite different. A hybrid of where we are now, if we move with the process and get out of our own way. One driven by the pioneering engine of Western style capitalism, atomized and individualistic, yet feel more Eastern and transcending, coexisting peacefully and harmoniously.

Some nations embrace the global movement of information, goods and services. Others may resist it, but undoubtedly humanity is the face of it. Whether nations embrace open borders for opportunities to improve living standards or they restrict them (and the potential revenue streams) it seems to be about fight or flight. A fear of losing part of ourselves or a perceived insecurity without a firm cultural identity. Perhaps we can transcend the impermanence of these man-made notions of what it means to be human because we think they preserve us and our species. However, we know that cultural values are learned behaviors and they can be unlearned however ingrained, but this takes time.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that:

the world is becoming smaller and one can easily recognize that everyone on earth is connected. We all suffer and experience joy. To meet the challenges of our times, though, we must develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. In a globalized society, we can find strength through that connection and forge a pathway to peace and prosperity for all.