How big is your worldview?
I write looking out over an urban area, beach park, and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean framed by Oahu’s mountains, all of which are eroded remnants of long dormant volcano craters. I generally read the New York Times, Washington Post and the Guardian (a British newspaper) every day. Although the reporting covers the world unequally, articles cover the permanently inhabited continents. My world’s boundaries extend far beyond the small Pacific island on which I live.
Before I write, I generally circumambulate the beach park that I can see from my window, a walk of about four miles. At ground level, my view toward the ocean is largely limited to grass, sand, palm trees, beachgoers, a lagoon formed by a coral reef and the ocean for a few miles beyond the reef.
While walking one day this week, I mused about globalization. In the eighteenth century, communication moved at the speed of a person, perhaps aided by a horse or sail powered vessel. Relatively few people ever travelled outside the local geographic area in which they were born. News traveled slowly. Steam, the telegraph, the internal combustion engine, radio, TV, the jet engine, transistors, the internet – a growing stream of inventions accelerated communication, sped up travel and lowered the cost of travel, and broadened horizons. Today, most people are more aware of the rest of the world than ever before. A diminishing minority of people live without knowledge of the rest of the world.
Intentionally narrowing one’s perspective on the world by paying attention only to one’s immediate surroundings and the people with whom one has a special relationship (either family, long-time friends or caregivers) works for the very young and the very, very old.
For the rest of us, intentionally narrowing our perspective courts disaster. Two sets of issues illustrate the looming danger. First, a person who blithely ignores all information about climate change, pollution and other environmental hazards may not diminish his/her quality of life. However, the consequences of those irresponsible actions for future generations are dire. Indeed, the consequences of those irresponsible actions for the present are increasingly dire. Second, military and terrorist threats are now global, easily crossing formerly formidable defensive topographical features such as oceans. As airport security checks and other intrusive, defensive measures remind us: the threats are real. My neighbors include all living people.
Politicians, leaders and people in every nation who prioritize self and their nation above everyone else expedite the end of the human race and perhaps of all life forms on this planet. White supremacists, religious nationalists and all forms of xenophobia pose a real threat to the whole world.
Our one hope for humanity is expanding our definition of “neighbor” to include all people, all life forms and the earth itself.
Biologists, psychologists and other researchers doubt that genuine altruism – care for another that does not benefit the caregiver is possible. Instead of advocating altruism, adopt an ethic of reciprocal altruism. Care for others believing – knowing – that your life and well-being are impossible without active concern and care from others.
For example, a mother cares for her newborn until the child is able to fend for him/herself. Mothers often have a partner to aid in the time demanding and costly endeavor of childrearing. Parents sacrifice for their children because they (or their genes) know that the parent’s genes live on through the child. Without parental care, probably no child would survive.
Parental care alone is generally insufficient. Few parents have the knowledge and ability to feed, clothe, shelter, provide medical care, educate and otherwise nurture a child from birth until adulthood. Parents rely upon others for assistance with those tasks. Historically, we can trace the slowly expanding circle of mutual concern that provided the assistance from the nuclear family to the extended family to the clan to the tribe and then to nation. In the twenty-first century, that circle must extend to all humans if we are to survive.
The wisdom that Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan rightly understood points to a far more profound truth than Jesus’ contemporaries could have ever imagined.