I spent the past four years studying “globalization.” My major was literally “Global Studies.” What a vague, complex, loaded term. I spent so much time analyzing forces of the past and present, unpacking history, anthropology, political and economic theory, the rise and fall of empires, etc. from various critical perspectives. I was so enthralled and consumed in a world of thought that was encompassed within classroom discussions, lecture halls and spaces of the Colby campus. In these discussions and lectures, I was given all the tools I needed to sit mired in thought for the rest of my life on these complex issues. The problem is that throughout the process, I rarely glimpsed effective models of the capacity, creativity, innovation, ingenuity and whatever else was needed to actually move forward on these issues. I emerged from my undergrad education slightly disillusioned, discouraged, trapped and confused about my power(lessness) to be, much less create in this postmodern, neoliberal world that we inhabit.
I think daily about these very complex, multifaceted issues. On one hand, they are these floating forces – neoliberalism, globalization, the marketplace of ideas, consumerism, etc – ideas, concepts, theories and case studies “out there.” On the other hand, they are not abstract forces but personal realities because they manifest themselves in our daily lives – in our wandering searches for identity and validation, our insecurities, our individual and corporate materialism and consumerism, our sense of failure and powerlessness, and our difficulty in grounding ourselves because of disintegrating moral, ethical and value systems. I know this all sounds vague and strange, but I want to talk a little about how I think these immensely abstract concepts are so much more than what is happening “over there” or to “those people” or sort of floating out in the distance, but instead, concrete things taking place in our minds and hearts.
These concepts materialize themselves in tangible and potentially destructive and invasive ways in our everyday lives. As an emerging college graduate anxious to join the workforce, they tell me that I am only as good as how much money I make; that my job and productivity defines my personal self-worth and my place as a global citizen; that life is a competition that I will always lose (and must fight for) because there are too many people and not enough roles for all of them; that my external appearance or my stuff determines how I am received by people; and that I need to spend money to be “modern” and in-step with the new global fads in order to be relevant.
Why doesn’t our society value qualities like introspection, compassion, humility, empathy and love? Or why doesn’t it recognize the various ways in which these qualities are expressed among different people? Or if a small corner of society does recognize these things, where do I find these people? Presence and voice is so much more than words and power. When will people begin to unpack these abstract forces like neoliberalism and globalization and come to realize that they have colonized the way that we think and act toward other people? They have changed the way companies look at employees and the qualities that are valued in the workplace. Let me be clear – I am certainly not saying that globalization as a whole is evil and that we need to fight it or anything. I am delighted that health, living standards, the status of women, the spread of information, the exposure of unethical business practices, etc., are increasing and becoming more and more visible. I feel I could not survive without the technological progress that has been made in my lifetime. Interconnectedness and speed is all I have ever known. I would say, however, that overall, globalization is negatively impacting value systems in the sense that in many instances, it has reduced the value of human life to productivity and efficiency. Ideals of beauty, rest, emotional intelligence, humility, and quality conversation do not seem valuable in so many social circles.
Let me propose a way to counteract the dehumanizing aspects of our global marketplace of stuff and ideas. The problem is that we can only learn so much and reach so many conclusions from reflecting on and critically analyzing the past and present. We can’t stop at the reflection; we need to innovate, create and discover different ways and solutions. And that’s where my college education ended, I guess, and threw me out into the real world to figure out. I’m not sure how it is going to look, but I am sure that there are people out there actively rediscovering and asserting their agency and creativity. I know many and am eager to know more.
As Christians, we will always struggle to understand and interpret realities of this world in light of our Christian faith. I think that one of the best ways we can combat the dehumanizing forces of racism, neoliberalism, social injustice, violence, war, etc., is to firstly, discover a vision for ourselves in our world that aligns with God’s, and secondly, take daily, measureable steps to live out that vision in the circles we inhabit. Of course, fully understanding God’s vision for the world is impossible for our human minds; people spend their entire lives dedicated to imagining, studying and writing about what this looks like. However, if you do declare yourself a Christian, than know the fundamentals of who Jesus was and what he proclaimed. There are some things that are inarguable, like God’s heart for the poor and marginalized, the sick, children, women, the lost, and the oppressed. Or God’s use of sinful, physically, emotionally and spiritually broken people to share his good news of freedom and salvation. Or the reality that the Christian life will not be easy, that it is a daily walk, that it is a process of growth and renewal, that it transforms our daily thoughts, decisions and actions. Or that God has a beautiful plan for the renewal of his creation. Now, what exactly these truths look like in your life will be different than how they look in the lives of other members of your church. But knowing and understanding some of these things should both convict us as Christians, and inspire us to innovation and action. Our confidence and hope can combat the depressing, downward spiraling image of society that is often communicated through the work and discussions of secular scholars and academics.
To liberal arts educators and students: As we think, dialogue and collaborate, let’s also create and innovate and support others who are. To the American church: Let’s seek to understand so that we can move toward God’s wholeness and not get stuck in earthly depravity (like my college degree). Let’s remember that God is the beginning and the end, not us and not our worldly systems. Let’s remember that we are God’s ambassadors to the world and there is no time to waste. Let’s also remember to do everything humbly, lovingly, compassionately and gently.
Lord, have mercy on us.