Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Civil society should strive to be a thousand, not one.

Written by on . Published in The greater we on .

One can be lonely or one can be together. One can be weak or one can be strong. One can be an orphaned child. One can be a childless widow. One can be a father and husband of a family wiped out by war. In another world, one can be fighting for a cause. One can be a united, determined and a passionate group of activists. One can be a symbol. One can be the coming together and striving toward a common goal. One can be an Arab Spring. One can occupy Wall St. One can protest a carbon tax, gay marriage or poker machine policies.

The problem with one is that it is never as simple as one. One orphaned child needs people, opportunities and materials to survive, and then thrive. One childless widow may desire a husband, children and human relations to feel connected, valued and loved. One father needs money, a trade, a chance, and possibly a God, to move on after his loss. As one can see, one is always more than one, and as a person, one cannot survive if they remain as one.

One, as a cause or idea, holds within it a thousand different positions, opinions, passions, ambitions and beliefs. This is the one perpetual problem of civil society trying to establish another one.

The Greater WE is yet another play on civil society’s attempts at one. Like others before, it ignores or is ignorant of the thousand pieces that encompass one within civil society movements. The Greater WE is bursting with fantastic ideas, intentions and concepts, although it is fundamentally flawed, by trying to be one.

‘Any effort to bring about real change [will fail] unless we succeed in clarifying and establishing universal terms for the goals and social norms that can guide development… that transcend cultures and religions…’ Within this one idea a thousand different and contrasting ideas converge, all passionately held and fought for by their advocates. Who will ultimately decide what are acceptable ‘universal terms’ and what sort of development is needed or required?  Democracy or socialism?  Free markets or state control? Amnesty or imprisonment? Religion or Atheism? Conservation or jobs? Macro development or micro development? Societal rights or individual rights? Meat or vegetables? Open borders, closed borders or no borders? Women’s rights, human rights, children’s rights, indigenous rights, ethnic rights, gay rights, religious rights…

It is easy to see how one fractures into a thousand pieces. Instead of trying to constantly become one, civil society should instead become a thousand. A thousand ideas, movements and actions. With each one becoming their own, they create a unique, expert and articulate voice for their cause. A thousand, trying to become one, results in a distortion of the message and lessens the impact. Partnerships, connections and networks can strengthen each one however they should only exist to meet a need and not a theory.

One as a person cannot survive. That one does need a thousand other ones.

One as cause, survives best, and thrives, as one.

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Stu O'Brien Twitter: stublogs

Stu lives in Melbourne and has a Masters in Development Practice from University of Queensland. He has lived and worked in Philippines, Tanzania, Kenya, Nauru and remote Australia. Stu will be self-publishing his first travel book, ‘Everything all of the time’ later this year covering his travels and volunteering ( in Africa. There is a facebook page here, which you can 'like.'