Think Globally – Act Locally

Think Globally – Act Locally

My friend Eve recently asked me “how to forge a humanistic path while forces of hate and fear and abuse swirl in the world.”

Excellent question, one we face every day these days. And the complexity of the answer(s) reminds me of a line from Woody Allen, I believe in his film Annie Hall, “How do you expect me to explain the Nazis? I can’t even understand my electric can opener.”

Facing issues today far more complex than the electric can opener and as distressingly complex as the rise to power of the Nazis and the resulting World War II, I’m reminded of yet another

bumper sticker from the previous eras of needing to act responsibly and effectively: THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY. Because it’s at the local level – person to person to person – we can most effectively leverage change.

My friend Kathryn is one of the “one-out-of eight” American women diagnosed with breast cancer. Yes, there are reputable national organizations and medical research institutions searching every day for cures and better treatments. And compassionate, caring medical personnel delivering the latest up-to-date treatment. And, down on the ground of every day living, Kathryn ran into a truly emotionally challenging situation amidst all of the nauseating and painful surgery-radiation-chemotherapy.  Losing her beautiful hair and thus her physical appearance of being “normal”.

Hair loss happens to every cancer patient. The timing for Kathryn, and she saw it coming months before it actually happened, is that she had to renew her California driver’s license at the nadir of her baldness.  Miserable! And no laughing matter in the midst of a struggle for her life.

So she organized a campaign to support a resolution of her local board of supervisors – happens to be San Francisco, so a progressive board with some statewide clout – to urge the California state legislature to adopt a resolution similar to a new law in New Jersey, that “any person undergoing medical treatment for an illness, whose physical characteristics have been temporarily changed due to medical treatment may request an extension of the stored photo (i.e., pre-treatment) on their driver’s license.”

If this were law at the time of Kathryn’s license renewal, she would have been able to continue using her previous photo until her hair grew back and she again looked normal rather than be so identifiable (for 10 years!) as a cancer patient.

When I emailed Kathryn requesting permission to use her story in this blog, she responded: “I’m already thinking what I can do beyond California. I will have to do it state by state, And my friend who writes state and federal education policy and legislation told me to pick a few red states after I get California then maybe get the word out to everybody so they realize that cancer is not a partisan issue. It can get anyone.”

Kathryn’s efforts is just one example of thinking globally, acting locally. And an example of Howard Zinn’s wisdom (full quote below): To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Every person has their own local cause to be passionate and pro-active about.

* Developing more effective procedures in a local school to protect students from bullying and cyber-bullying. 

* Cleaning up a local waste treatment plant to protect a town’s clean drinking water.

* Creating a public safety campaign to reduce car accidents by requiring local drivers to stop for yellow and red traffic lights.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching to mend the part that is within our reach.

– Clarissa Pinkola-Este

Finding your own personal cause to be passionate and pro-active about is one way to forge that humanistic path in the distressing complexities of fear, hate, and anger loose in the world today.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” – Howard Zinn

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