Networking International Style

Last night I attended a World Affairs Council (WAC) event in Hartford, an advance screening of “Great Decisions in Foreign Policy” 2011 Television Series on PBS that took place in selected cities across the country. Attendees provided comments and opinion on camera to round out the series with audience interaction. Our “Great Decisions” topics were “Is American power fading?” and “Should we have a special relationship with Germany?”

I think about the first topic often – almost every day, in fact, when I listen to NPR, turn on the local news or read the New York Times – but specifically when I speak to students on American campuses about the need to study abroad, work abroad, and simply to better understand the interconnected world we live in. Last night our group discussed the negative impact of the economic crisis, the wobbling credibility of the US vis-a-vis financial prudence and advice, and the rise of other economies, like China. We talked about leading technologies, dismayed by the fact that China has surpassed the U.S. in number of patents filed, and noted that other countries seemed to be able to make much more money off their and our inventions. We compared the decline of the 1920s with our situation now – were consumerism and complacency to blame for today’s worsening woes. We went on to wonder whether or not it matters if the US declines from its preeminent position of power, what it means and could we actually stop worrying about being number one and work toward influencing the next world order of shared power? Provocative and all very interesting.

The real beauty of this two-hour evening turned out to be not only the debates with people who cared enough to go out on a rainy Tuesday night, but our “assignment.” We had to quickly come to a statement to share on camera. Even if we weren’t being filmed, we felt we needed a resolution of sorts, at least in our own minds, within our own group. Although the discussions were philosophical and many questions had to go unanswered, the experience made us all think. And when you think about something and come to a conclusion – even if it’s only half-baked for the purposes of participation – you have a greater stake in the process. It encourages action, not complacency, and that’s what the US needs right now. Democracy is an interactive process. If we want to change things, we must think and act.

Last night made me realize, all over again, why I love networking with people international style.  Organizations like WAC, which is a non-profit, non-partisan oraganization promoting greater understanding of global ideas and issues, brings people who find global issues interesting together in small and large groups. These people have a stake in the game, be it business dealings or politics, but more likely it’s pure intellectual curiosity and interest in all things global.

I also realized that the mother of one of my daughters’ friends has a similar passion for discussing global issues. Be it business, political, financial or economic, she’s interested. Sometimes it’s difficult to find such a friend if you’ve moved around a lot, like I have, or you live in a town that’s less cosmopolitan than Hong Kong or DC. Moreover, people have busy lives, and politics can be such taboo. But that’s what makes global minds different, and international networking groups so special. The cross-cultural awareness, the sensitivity, the ability to listen, hear and respect another’s response – even if different from our own – comes much more naturally.

I encourage all of you to join groups such as WAC and Internations, an online community for global minds. Sometimes life directs us to smaller towns that are less international than we’d want. But usually, there is some sort of group nearby where we can get our international fill. Take a look. It’s probably out there.