Balance is basic in a wobbly world

Photo Courtesy of Advertising Agency: Bleublancrouge, Montreal, Canada
Creative Director / Art Director / Copywriter: Gaëtan Namouric
Published: September 2008


Glocal — ever heard of it?

I had not ’til I was sitting in an international-relations course in London. We were assigned a hefty pile of reading — all to define one word; that, too, a word concocted by a cheeky academic. It doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, so don’t bother.

But apparently, “glocal” captured one view of the modern world: it’s in contrast to the idea that the world had globalized and we are all part of one “global village” eating the same foods, drinking the same drinks, wearing the same brands and vacationing at the same amusement park in Paris, Hong Kong and Anaheim. No, rather, glocal embodies a tension between the global and the local. It pays homage to both, not one. It’s a power play that volleys back and forth.

I’ve had little patience for academic theories once I left university. Partly, because I find the jargon a bit silly — the same thoughts can be expressed in simpler language. That’s because they’re generally simple ideas, decorated and disguised. But, the word glocal stuck with me.

As I interacted with locals in the county, I heard two opinions: “Why should I care about what’s going in the world? I just want to know about what’s going on in my backyard.” And the second, “I’m not interested in what’s going on locally. I don’t read the local papers. The important news is in the national (or even international) papers.” Both are, of course, justified as personal opinions and completed respected.

But, in many ways, both missed the “glocal” aspect of our world today. The answer doesn’t exist in either; it exists in both.

Recently, I was speaking with a friend who worked as an adviser at the office of the Small Business Administration. I asked him what can small businesses do to have a social impact — aside from charitable donations in their local community. How can they truly have a strong social impact? They’re not the PepsiCo’s of the world. They don’t have that much leverage.

Wrong. They do have leverage, he said. In fact, countless small businesses are making changes to their businesses: purchasing from sustainable sources, decreasing environmental damage by operating their businesses in an eco-friendly manner, reducing their water wastage, hiring and training young people from underprivileged communities.

All of these small acts of a “social conscience” have the capacity to leave a “global” footprint. Add it up, city by city, and we’ve got a domino effect.

Then, two weeks back, I was chatting with a filmmaker and activist friend of mine. He’s been fixated on the water woes of the world — scarcity of water in developing countries, droughts in the developed and developing world, and contaminated water sources for the poor.

The first time I met him, back in London, he asked me about my jeans. We’d barely begun our conversation and he asked, “Do you know what the dirtiest water product on the market is?” Jeans, I was informed. Every pair of jeans consumes 6,000 liters of water in the process of production, reportedly. The “virtual water” wasted, he said, is just as bad as a leaky faucet. And it’s hidden in our everyday consumption.

Needless to say, I won’t be wearing jeans in front of him again. But, it was a quick reminder of the glocal — how my life, be it in a metropolitan city like London or in charming Ventura County, was connected to the greater story of a nation or the world.

When I travel with my Rotary friends to help with polio vaccinations, we are smacked in the face with a “glocal” world: how a disease that originates in a tiny, remote village can infect a massive population, cross oceans, take flights and contaminate even more communities. That’s why increasing local sanitation is critical for global public health.

So, the argument that more money should go into local projects, not global projects, is nuanced; it’s not that linear. Yes, of course, we need to invest in our local communities to make them healthy, beautiful and inclusive. But our local world is sewn to the success of a greater humanity. At times, we have to reach out to small communities in other parts of the world, expressing an interest in their serenity and well-being. There’s a likelihood that it’ll later connect with ours.

Gandhi, a prolific writer, thinker and activist, embodied the “glocal” perspective before the McDonaldization and Coca-Colization of the world. He said that the heart of a country lies in its villages; if each village is nourished, happy and productive, then only can we have a fruitful existence as a whole. His spinning wheel was an embodiment of that self-reliance, sense of community and peace. But, we must take interest in each village, not just ours.

To put it even simply, to seek peace and contentment around us, we must seek it within ourselves. So, even in the speedy pace of modern life, the exterior depends on the interior, the global relies on the local. No cheeky words needed. No academic theories necessary. Just an age-old concept that’s continuing to survive in an increasingly cluttered world.

Our challenge is to find the balance — within and outwardly.

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