Why we should listen to the world

Local is crucial. Families, homes, and communities need our attention and care. But without a global perspective -- without making the effort to learn how other cultures are tackling problems ranging from education to health care, fighting terrorism to fostering innovation -- we miss valuable lessons developed in the laboratories of other nations. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Then-Monitor Latin America correspondent Sara Miller Llana (Now Europe-based) interviewed a farmer in Tamaula, Mexico, last year.

Is Hillary Rodham Clinton running? What about Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rand Paul? The 2016 presidential race is already generating buzz. Meanwhile, can you (without turning to Google) name the prime minister of Sweden? The president of Indonesia?

Readers outside the United States occasionally nudge us to remember that America is not the center of the world. Imagine how it seems to someone in Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany, the Philippines, or any of the 190 other countries to face a steady stream of news about American controversies, concerns, Kardashians, and political races that are more than three years away. 

We get it. The Monitor’s audience from the moment of its founding in 1908 was “all mankind.” Ideally, we would publish in many languages and give equal weight to news from all parts of the world. Practically, we’re a long way from that. Our American roots are real. We are US-based, and staffed largely by Americans. Most of our readers are in the US. And for better or worse, the US is by far the world’s biggest newsmaker. 

To compensate, we strive for international perspective – and have done so since our founding. It is why we have correspondents that we turn to all over the globe. In a Monitor cover story, we take you around the world in search of the best ideas in education. If you’ve read the Monitor for a while, you’ll recall that we’ve applied this international perspective to issues ranging from the fight against terrorism to the fostering of innovation, from competing systems for national health care to global manufacturing and trade.

But I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a parochial angle to our international perspective. Education: The American school year is beginning. Terrorism: The Boston Marathon bombings. Health care: “Obamacare.” Supply chains: America’s voracious consumers. (As author Bill Bryson puts it: “The whole of the global economy is based on supplying the cravings of two percent of the world’s population.”) If there’s no such thing as pure international perspective – no place to stand on the planet that is not, at heart, local – the striving for international perspective is undoubtedly healthy. It broadens our thinking. The 50 states of the United States of America are sometimes called “laboratories of democracy.” Different ideas are tried in these local jurisdictions. Things that seem good go national. Things that don’t stay local. The world’s 195 nations are laboratories, too. 

*           *           *

As summer winds down (OK, as Northern Hemisphere summer winds down), most of us – no matter how far removed from our school days we are – feel that mixture of dread and excitement. Leaves are still green, but the chlorophyll factories are shutting down. The new generation of ducks and geese are airborne. Winter is not far away. 

That’s the dread. The excitement is fall – dramatic, mellow, bracing, gentle. Fall doesn’t have the promise of arrival that spring has. It has the bittersweetness of departure. The poet William Cullen Bryant called it “the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

A few years ago, we asked readers to send us their fall foliage photos. We saw gorgeous images from New England, of course, but because Monitor readers are far-flung, we saw photos from the Pacific Northwest, Europe, and China. The best perspective, though, came from New Zealand. Buds were opening, blades were sprouting. It was spring there. 

John Yemma is editor of the Monitor. You can reach him at editor@csmonitor.com.

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