The View from Everywhere
This is a picture of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
I love airports…hearing all the different languages, sitting at the gates and watching people from all over the world walk, run, or stroll to their gate. I imagine where they’re going, and from where they’ve come. I imagine myself going there too. Airports are a rare microcosm of cultures; a convergence of different expectations, needs, and joys from around the world. How are we connected? That’s what we talked about in France. The fancy word for that is cosmopolitanism.
Cosmopolitanism is being a citizen of the world, not just a citizen of one country or culture. A cosmopolitan person honors obligations that go beyond one’s own family and citizenship, and takes into account what would be best for all the citizens of the world. A cosmopolitan person can see the good in different cultures, and does not suffer from ethnocentric tunnel vision. As the world becomes “smaller” and more interconnected, cosmopolitanism is increasingly important.
One danger of cosmopolitanism is that one’s own identity can be lost. For example, immigrants may understand multiple cultures, but feel as if they belong to none. Some fear that cosmopolitanism will lead one to seeing from nowhere. Rather, true cosmopolitanism is the “view from everywhere.” True cosmopolitanism involves sympathetic understanding of each culture, in order to choose and implement the best.
I saw cosmopolitanism in the street market in France. There were vendors from many different countries, all coexisting and cooperating to sell their goods in the immigrant neighborhood of Paris. I saw cosmopolitanism at L’Abri, where people of many different cultures strive for meaningful relationships. I saw cosmopolitanism reflected in the life of a missionary tour guide, who made cultural mistakes in France, and yet persevered until he understood French culture enough to do effective outreach. Cosmopolitanism may mean sacrifice, because it involves looking for the good of the whole, not just me or those in my own country. A true cosmopolitan attitude requires hard work, perseverance, and willingness to make mistakes. Exposure to a few international airports won’t hurt either!