From "Geocentric" to Globally Connected
Published in Global Citizen Daily on 10.15.2013
A life lived in a remote, small town does not mean one's mind and worldview remains small.
In our lives, we go through several developmental passages. The most important passage in my life so far is my transition from a small town life focused on tradition and local living to a global-engagement perspective focused on global unity.
My childhood views were narrow and my ideas about the world began small. In my remote, isolated community, I had developed a "geocentric" mindset. In other words, I was confident that my way of life was the only proper possibility. However, on the bright side, this small town allowed me to develop a sense of community importance that would follow me through my educational and professional development.
Let me paint a picture: the majority of my early influences were in a town known as Roundup, Montana. Main Street was a north-south highway, above which the town’s only traffic light endlessly blinked caution. The 1,900 people who lived in and around Roundup made a living on the plains surrounding the town through farming and ranching.
My graduating high school class, composed of 42 students, had dreams and aspirations that stretched as far as the city boundaries would allow. Most planned on taking on the family business or returning to help out on the land. Most of us couldn’t see beyond our one cautionary traffic light and our life goals were similarly limited. In fact, only about half of my graduating class even considered college or a trade school as their next step in life. However, I had a desire to expand and broaden my opportunities and beliefs.
Fortunately, through family opportunity and personal growth, I was able to expand my "centricity" beyond the city boundaries over the years and eventually beyond the boundaries of the state.
I traveled frequently to the West Coast and throughout the Western United States. But my eyes were truly opened when I stepped off the plane in New York City for the first time at the age of 12. I owe this life changing experience to a composer and musical director, Dr. Funk, who took my 6th grade choir to NYC to sing on the stage at Carnegie Hall.
I noticed that there was a "community" on the east coast, as there was on the west coast, but this community was different from any I had observed before. The pace of life was much faster, the people were more focused and seemed more somber. Even the style of education seemed faster. It was all Greek to me.
However, the pivotal moment that made me step back and question my geocentric upbringing was the opening number to the Broadway performance of The Lion King.
Immediately after the lights dimmed, Rafiki’s voice bellowed a foreign chant through the concert hall, calling to the human-hybrid-animals that one by one showed themselves to the audience.
One chanted from the balcony, two came down from the rafters, birds fluttered in from off stage. Finally, a parade of huge, life-like, exotic animals marched down the aisles of the theater until they reached the stage and stood proudly at the base of "Pride Rock."
I was not watching The Lion King; I had been transported to the pride lands. I had become a part of The Lion King, so much so that as the baby Simba was raised above my head, I felt proud of my new King.
In that one moment, the boundaries of my life were destroyed and my eyes were opened. They were opened to the Serengeti of a continent I had previously only thought of in a historical context.
The Lion King gave me the courage I needed to look beyond that blinking traffic light. Eventually, the realizations I gained at the base of Pride Rock gave me the courage to expand my horizons by moving out of the state. When I turned 18 years old, I found myself in Spokane Washington, where I stumbled upon a support group that funneled an exhilarating new form of activism and education into my brain. That group challenged my thinking in new ways, and later funneled me into the realm of HIV education and prevention.
Small town America taught me about doing good and giving back to the community in which I live. Thanks to that new group, I now saw how HIV prevention would become my way of doing good and giving back. Working within the "prevention community," I soon realized that even people on a global scale can become united around an important cause. This is especially true in times of poor health and crisis.
In order for me to learn, do my best work and give the most to my community, I knew I had to work with a population I was familiar with. I began working with "at-risk" young people, and I soon realized I was doing in my own city what similar leaders were doing in towns all over the globe. I began by working to protect the people closest to me and educate them about ways to protect themselves and the people closest to them.
The importance I was placing on this global cause was validated when I began to expand my education efforts through social networking and the internet. I began to not only be aware of the globe, but I began working with the globe toward accomplishing a much needed and sought after goal: eradicating HIV.
I was rapidly becoming, virtually, a global citizen.
Before I knew it, from my small office in Spokane, I was working with doctors from India and collaborating with colleagues who worked in HIV prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. I was working on something global and I was doing so through the community that gave me a platform for diving into the world.
I began working with at risk youth on ways to engage with people from different parts of the Pacific Northwest, different parts of the country, and even different parts of the world by finding common ground and then working together. I worked with local community members to focus on the importance of giving back to their community with service projects.
Working with HIV prevention became a pretty direct mirror of my own personal life. While I was tearing down my personal geographic boundaries and building up my global citizenship credentials, I was also removing the previously concrete geographic boundaries on HIV prevention. As those boundaries fell, the people I was now able to reach around the world seemed eager to grasp the information, if they had been starved of it. The more I did this, the more it felt like I was actually building a road where none had previously existed.
The advantages of the modern era gave me the opportunity to reach hundreds of at risk youth in different states - and even in different nations - with Facebook posts, Tweets, and even more directly through YouTube videos. I began to see "followers" and "subscribers" from the UK and in Australia. Eventually, the HIV Prevention messaging I received when I was younger was reaching a global audience thanks to advances in technology.
I shifted from doing good locally to doing good globally!
Working with HIV taught me a few very important lessons.
First, it showed me the power of a world united to solve a problem.
Second, it showed me the importance of working directly within our community to enhance relationships and better understand the differences that are present in our world.
Finally, and most importantly, working with HIV prevention opened my eyes to the similarities that exist from continent to continent, tribe to tribe, city to city - and even person to person. Though we may wear different clothes and think in different languages, our similarities present themselves when unity is needed. When it comes to HIV prevention, global unity is needed.
As a raindrop lands in a pool of water, the effects ripple outward in an ever-expanding concentric pattern.
This is an excellent metaphor for the way my previously geocentric way of thinking expanded. From one blinking traffic light to an expansive network of global connections, my views continued to grow and expand, one ripple at a time.
It is appropriate, then, that the Broadway production that changed my view on life is centered around the idea of a circle, as we are all, in fact, connected in a “Circle of Life”.