Building Freedom in a Flattened World
Economist Thomas Friedman is documenting the flattening of the world. Thanks to the economic globalization that has taken place in the last 20 years, not countries, not companies, but individuals are acting all over the place.
While we connect and sell (or are sold to), we’re encountering new cultures, languages, and traditions in an absolutely different way. Now, most of us are exposed daily to people we never before knew existed and, incidentally, to people with whom we disagree.
We find ourselves in a multi-cultural world, and we’re faced with our own differences.
Sometimes we’ve tried to leave them behind. We pray in our homes, but not at work lunches; we wear our traditional garb for religious holidays but certainly not out shopping. Other times, we try to act as if our differences aren’t important, especially not to the conversations we have with others. We don’t offer our own stories as evidence in debates, and we don’t share at school what we’ve been taught in the Tabernacle, Mosque, or Cathedral. Still other times, we try to abandon our differences all together. In all of these circumstances, the most each individual brings to the conversation is the least common denominator among them all; it’s the thin thought everyone in the room can agree on. It’s a stunted freedom of conscience.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth, describes these interactions as the “hotel model” of society. It is that “I can do whatever I want in my own room, so long as it doesn’t affect those in the room beside me.” What kind of freedom is this? What kind of society is it?
Well, it’s one in which we don’t trust each other. And it’s one in which we don’t try to know each other, either. Beliefs aren’t brought into the conversation. Friendship isn’t shared in any meaningful way. We exist in tribes, in thought-silos, happily agreeing with our own news station, our own radio shows, and our own politicians who say what we already believe—that what we think is right.
To have a really meaningful freedom of conscience, we need cross-cultural, interfaith dialogues. We need to build together what none of us could build alone. Only when we take up our individual responsibility towards the common good will we have any meaningful freedom of conscience in the global community.