Exchanges matter more now than ever

Globalization was supposed to bring us all together. In some ways it has; our ability to communicate with anyone anywhere around the world in real time is just one example. Nevertheless, globalization has brought about a dangerous phenomenon that needs to be put in check; if it isn’t, too many doors that might open will close.

If we’ve learned anything over the last four or so years, it’s that globalization has caused significant fear within millions of people. Whether you want to call it national identity or some similar term, the reality is too many people around the world fear the best of their country is being swallowed up by multi-national corporations that seek to homogenize everyone. Yes, being American, British, Chinese, Dutch and follow the alphabet trail all the way to z doesn’t feel the same as it did a generation ago.

The unfortunate effect of this fear in too many countries has come through seeking to close borders, doors and minds. Of course, those of us who live in the United States saw this intensity to close during Donald Trump’s presidency. He ravaged America’s allies and sought to re-establish a Cold War mindset with countries such as China and Russia. All of this, he promised, would somehow Make America Great Again.

Nonsense. It made America an international pariah.

The best way to counter fears about globalization is not to close borders, doors and minds, but to open them. Wide. Break the hinges off when you open those doors, my friends, because it is through such efforts that we understand each other much better.

Our collective world — and all of us inhabit it, no matter the part of it we call home — is made safer when, as just one example, college educators and students from the U.S. visit their fellow educators and students in China. Exchanges such as these improve cultural, historical and social understanding. Our similarities become even more obvious and our difference become even less relevant.

Each of us — no matter our position in society — must embrace open borders, doors and minds. You never know what kind of change might follow.

It was 50 years ago when a group of American and Chinese ping-pong players hatched what seemed like a crazy idea: What if the Americans who were competing in a tournament in nearby Japan made an unplanned visit to China? Few people would have imagined that the doors that were opened from that visit soon would lead to an American president visiting China and soonn after that to China’s re-entering the global community of nations.

A group of ping-pong players did that? Yes. And they did it because instead of looking at each other as enemies who needed to be defeated in a sports event, they chose to see laughter and competition as a way to make their respective countries safer and better.

One of my students reminded me not long ago that “you’re the professor who says you want your students to trust you, and then you do everything you can to prove it.” It was a powerful, but humbling, reminder of the tremendous role one person can play in another person’s life. That’s why being open to ideas, opinions, beliefs, dreams and more matters.

I’m counting on you to be the same kind of person. If you do, our world will inch just a little bit closer to the good side.

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