What Makes a Good Citizen of Planet Earth?

With the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing as a backdrop this week, I’ve been contemplating what makes a good citizen of Planet Earth. Don’t you agree our world could use the leadership of more people who see the whole Earth as their home?

Neil Armstrong’s “one giant leap for mankind” hints at how I believe global citizens might see themselves given the “small steps” in their own lives. It’s about seeing a bigger picture and possibilities for advancing together. It’s no small wonder Neil Armstrong was decorated by 17 countries.

I believe a global citizen is someone who is in it for a greater good—in spirit at the very least; in genuine spirit-guided action at the very best. A citizen of this planet has love for other people who are similar or different and live here or there. In my mind, a global citizen has keen awareness of the interdependence of all things and events on this planet. “Communities” are not shapes or boundaries drawn on a map. No matter what, a planet-minded citizen is operating from a perspective mindful of larger systems at play—human systems and natural systems. Action is the key—trying to improve the condition, making wrongs right, standing up, correcting missteps, restoring, balancing, sharing.

Robert G. Hanvey offered his views on what it means to be a citizen of the Earth in a timeless essay entitled “An Attainable Global Perspective.” Published nearly 44 years ago by Denver University’s Center for Teaching International Relations in collaboration with the Center for War/Peace Studies, it has relevance today. Let’s take a look:

Mr. Hanvey proposed that as we help prepare students to be global citizens, we must help them develop five kinds of consciousness:

  1. Perspective Consciousness—having awareness that their own perspectives may not be shared by others. It recognizes other people’s perspectives may vary from their own because of subtle and not-to-subtle influences and life experiences. Being “perspective conscious” requires global citizens to learn the difference between “opinion and perspective.”

  2. State of the Planet Awareness—building knowledge and skills so they can “intelligently interpret information about world conditions.” It emphasizes learning to discern facts from fiction. The author addresses how political ideology interferes with understanding. He talks about the need to understand the role of media communications. In such a complex world, he also discusses limits to human understanding.

  3. Cross Cultural Awareness—surpassing empathy, global citizens are able to see themselves playing a role in cultures foreign to their own. Here, Mr. Hanvey makes one of his many important points: “human groups commonly have difficulty in accepting the humanness of other human groups.” Overcoming this challenge is what cross cultural awareness is all about.

  4. Knowledge about Global Dynamics—understanding how the world works including how its interdependent systems function. The author gives special attention to technological innovation and the principles of change along with “the issue of growth” which he says “may be the predominant contemporary problem.”

  5. Awareness of Human Choices—understanding there are tough choices and values decisions to be made when we address our world’s problems.

I believe that courage and confidence must be underlying qualities for someone to “take on” the five dimensions above. Being a good citizen with a productive (read active) global perspective must surely come from a place of recognizing changes are needed and “I can make a difference.”

Given the headlines and issues around our globe, it is clear we’ve got some serious work to do as we become better citizens of Planet Earth and raise our children to become global citizens, too. Mr. Hanvey noted at the end of his essay that he had shared just one of many perspectives on global citizenship—though it was his favorite.

It’s fast becoming mine, too.

Like the footprints on our moon, we leave lasting impressions on our planet. What kind of legacy do you want to leave? For me, I will continue making it a life-long goal to strive to be a good citizen of Planet Earth. Since our world is wide and complex, it’s okay if I never feel like I achieve my goal—so long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other to take another small step forward….

Patty Dreier

Author of Empowered One Planet at a Time: Standing Up for Our Planet and Ourselves

to be published fall 2019.