Higher education heretic, social innovation junkie, Arsenal saddo.
Now we’ve looked at some of the external drivers shaping our borderless word, let’s turn to a bigger question. Why should we want to live in one, and what does it mean to have a borderless disposition?
For a start, bordered thinking is narrow thinking, which can limit horizons of possibility. Ideological borders, for example, can lead to the prescription of singular models to solve social problems. We end up convinced that for-profit models are universal solutions, or that charitable models are the only ones which embody the right kinds of values. When we’re blinded by dogma we reject the full spectrum of possible and appropriate solutions.
Secondly, ideological and cultural borders constrict our understanding of people, and therefore of the challenges and opportunities – as well as the sources of comfort and distress – they face in their everyday lives. They have the effect of flattening people to one-dimensional sufferers, beneficiaries, agents, or victims. To genuinely meet our global challenges, we need to be able to apprehend the full humanity of those we seek to serve.
In JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech (for those of you who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it) she talks, with moving eloquence , about the power of imagination. Imagination enables empathy, and it is empathy that allows us to cross the boundary of the self to another person, to other people. Empathy is humanity’s unique gift:
“Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places”.
This is an unequivocal call to a borderless disposition: to live a life when we have the desire to step outside our own experiences, our own worldviews and perhaps even our own interests, to understand anothers.
A borderless disposition calls upon us to not only acknowledge but to celebrate the power of our interconnectedness. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh wonderfully describes this as “interbeing”: subsuming the self to the world around us, recognising that the self is only possible because of the non-self elements which sustain it. He uses the wonderful example of a flower to illustrate the point:
“… there is no such thing as an individual separate self. A flower is made only of non-flower elements, such as chlorophyll, sunlight, and water. If we were to remove all the non-flower elements from the flower, there would be no flower left. A flower cannot be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with all of us… Humans are like this too. We can’t exist by ourselves alone. We can only inter-be. I am made only of non-me elements, such as the Earth, the sun, parents, and ancestors”
A borderless disposition calls upon us to live our lives ardently cognisant of our impact on others. We touch each other’s lives simply by existing. But even beyond the truth of that statement, when amplified by global interconnectivity, our actions are not discrete; they permeate the borders of the self to individuals and communities . Privilege dilates our influence even further, and those of us with access to higher education, to the tools of connectivity and geographical mobility should wear the burden of ethical and political responsibility as much as any.
When we see ourselves as borderless we are compelled to a form of personal leadership which has its very heart a commitment to understanding others, and responsibility for our actions .