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By Meghan Zacher, Center for Public and Global Affairs Intern
July 16, 2015
Thanks to the technological advances of the society we live in, humans are almost constantly “connected”. Whether that connection occurs by phone, Facebook, or television, interactions between people around the globe occur constantly despite the physical and immaterial boundaries that could restrict us. Yet, even with all this connectivity, we still somehow find a way to divide ourselves.
I recently returned to the U.S. from spending eight months studying abroad in Nantes, France. During my stay, I had the opportunity to live with a French host family and to interact with many French students and adults. These interactions inevitably included a conversation comparing some aspect of the U.S. and France. Many people asked how I felt about the food, whether I thought French people were incredibly thin compared to my fellow American citizens, or how the two country’s education systems compared. However, the conversations in which I learned the most typically revolved around the political state of the two countries.
Often these conversations would start while we were sitting around the dinner table. My host dad would begin expressing his frustration about some recent development in the government, something François Hollande had done or a new report on unemployment, for example. These remarks were almost never positive. After he had vented his thoughts and the rest of my host family had weighed in on the issue, all eyes typically turned to me: “Well, Megan, what do you think? How does this compare with the situation in the U.S.?”
More often than not, I was in agreement with what they were saying. They were generally unhappy with the state of their country, and when I discuss the political state of the U.S. with my American family, the sentiment is usually the same. Even though sometimes our right and left-wing ideas were conflicting, the general dissatisfaction and issues of unemployment, poverty, debt, or welfare were found in both French and American conversations.
These discussions led me to think, why, in an age when we are more connected to each other than ever, do we feel the need to separate ourselves based on the country we live in? Why do we think that as Frenchmen or Americans or Nigerians, our situations are opposite and unrelated? Obviously there are hundreds of differences between nations and their citizens but even with all those, as humans, we have many of the same frustrations with the world we live in. However, we do not tend to think that way. We often assume that our problems or frustrations are being experienced uniquely by people of the same nationality or faith. Perhaps if we stepped out of our individual bubble we would realize that, in fact, many of us have the same issues and ideas. Perhaps by educating ourselves we could create a more in-depth connection with one another, offer ideas, and find solutions for the problems we feel we suffer through alone.
Luckily we have organizations like the Niagara Foundation who help us to make those connections on a deeper level. Through discussion between people of different faiths, cultures, political parties, and social class we begin to find the things that connect us as humans and become a stronger, more cohesive society.