You may not have noticed, because it’s been a gradual change in the international climate. There’s evidence of a global warming that is thawing things long-frozen. It’s not evident everywhere, but in some surprising regions. And it’s not all bad news.
For those of us who grew up in the Cold War Era, the icy relationships between many nations was the norm. To keep the peace, each threatened war. Now, it seems, many of those former adversaries have found a way to get along, and many barriers have come down. Nevertheless, there remain several volatile regions, and a number of upstart countries that continue to upset the international balance.
This new global warming is manifested in a broad and sweeping international exchange. Many countries are becoming melting pots of different nationalities, as companies globalize, and business travel expands. Indeed, the international travel experiences of many of our college youth have made the world a much smaller place. Where, as children, many of us were content to travel out of state for vacations and education, many of our children now travel to foreign lands for the same reasons.
My own son, who showed little interest in travel during many of our family outings, has been to Europe three times, took summer classes in southern France, and spent a semester in Japan learning the language and culture. Twenty-three years ago, Jason was born with a shock of red hair, full of wonder and promise. This fall, still with his shock of red hair and full of wonder and promise, he will begin his second year in Japan teaching English. Many of his friends also traveled extensively during college are teaching our language in foreign lands as well.
The world is becoming a very small place. The products and services we use come from all over the globe. I recently bought four Arrow shirts at a department store, and when looking at the labels for their composition, found that one was made in Viet Nam, one was from Thailand, one was from Bangladesh and one was “Heche en Mexico.” Soon after, I spoke with a customer service representative from a credit card company – she had a delightful southern belle’s name and an interesting southern accent, tinged with a taste of India. A mere generation ago, none of these would have seemed possible.
As the world becomes smaller, and national boundaries fade, the need to communicate in various languages becomes more important. All of mankind’s advances are built on the scientific and intellectual knowledge base of previous generations. The most efficient way to build on that knowledge is to make it universal through translation, so that language is not a barrier to progress. But translation alone is not enough; cultural differences must be bridged in order to build trust, the key to communication.
Our children are more accepting of the differences between cultures, having been raised at a time when discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex or creed was at its lowest ebb in our history. With their greater openness and their intellectual curiosity, as they travel, hopefully they serve as goodwill ambassadors, leaving their hosts with favorable impressions of us and building the trust necessary to allow communication to thrive. With that, we can truly be proud of our legacy.
For many generations, parents have worked to insure that their children’s lives were better than their own. We may have reached a point of diminishing returns, where the material advances are no longer sustainable. But richer lives for our children need not be measured by possessions; peace and collective prosperity may be better and more noble measures of their success, gauged by what they give rather than what they receive, and what they share rather than what they consume.
By sharing our language and culture with others, and by learning other languages and cultures in return, our children can build bridges and tear down walls, and continue the thaw that has begun. This global warming is perhaps the most encouraging sign of the times. Our attempts to plant democracy in the Middle East need more fertile lands and a warm, less incendiary climate. Maybe our youth can help to turn swords into plowshares, harness the winds of change, and sow the seeds of peace.
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