Finding our place in the world

Veronica Boix Mansilla is a Principal Investigator at Project Zero where she also chairs the Future of Learning institute. Her research group examines quality approaches to educating for global competence in and across the disciplines in multiple  education contexts.

I was excited to receive an invitation from my colleagues to blog for Out of Eden Learn at this time. Paul’s walk is capturing the imagination of thousands around the world and, with it, creating a unique opportunity for learning that matters for today and tomorrow. What might we learn from his exploration? How might we, thousands of miles away from the searing sand, the noble camels, and the ancient coasts of the Red Sea be touched, or perhaps even transformed, by Paul’s walk?  In this blog, I would like to explore with you the possibility that at the heart of “walking with Paul” lies the opportunity to develop our global consciousness. Let me explain:

For almost a decade, I have been studying how, as human beings, we find our place in a world that is becoming increasingly interdependent. This world of ours is propelled by our human impetus to communicate with one another; to utilize resources; to exchange goods, stories and aspirations; to migrate -out of desire or despair- in search of a better life. We shape our world at every click of a mouse and through every conversation. In turn, quietly and relentlessly, these encounters shape us, as other people’s stories, neighborhoods, and dreams expand our world views.

Working very closely with teachers and my research group at Project Zero, I have come to think about our capacity to find our place in the world as a matter of expanding our global consciousness.  We can think about global consciousness as a  “disposition to place ourselves as well as the people, objects and situations we encounter, in the broader matrix of our contemporary world.”  Three capacities are at the heart of becoming a globally conscious person and can be nurtured in powerful learning environments. They include developing our global sensitivity, global understanding and a global self.  Dispatch after dispatch, Paul Salopek expands his global consciousness and invites us to do the same.  Consider, for instance, his recent post “Coasting.”

Global Sensitivity

Overlooking the gentle waves of the Red Sea, Paul’s attention is focused on subtle vibrations of his companion, Hassan’s fishing line, cast over the water repeatedly, renewing the hope of a protein-rich meal with each cast. Paul sees Hassan’s fishing craft and his communion with the sea as illustrating a millennial local practice, but also one to be found, with variations, by seashores the world over, East Timor and Chile included.

Global sensitivity involves selective attention to issues that, like fishing practices around the world, reveal global interconnectedness.  In our daily lives, opportunities to enhance our global sensitivity abound. We may notice our daily diet, our new neighbors, or local weather patterns and view them as shaped by developments and realities many time zones away (e.g. global food-production, migration and climate change). We have found that inviting ourselves and others to “notice” local global connections in this way, opens a powerful door to global consciousness.

 Global Understanding

If global sensitivity matters, so does global understanding.  We develop our global consciousness when we seek to explain what we see, by placing it against the background of credible explanations of how the world works or trustworthy narratives about how things came to be this way and how they are changing. Paul’s dispatches exemplify the search for global understanding beautifully. He investigates competing theories of human migration to gauge the role that the Red Sea played in the larger human story. Later on, he invites us to place our fascination with the sea in today’s global context, where most of the world’s megacities lie by seas that are, in most areas, rising.

Global understanding (often seen as “global competence”) requires that we learn to investigate the world, to recognize other’s perspectives, and communicate across our differences. To do so, like Paul, we must identify powerful questions and learn from others (geographers, historians, scientists, artist, community leaders) whose work could become a lens through which we come to see the world. We must think, deliberate, talk, share, chat with others to deepen our understanding, making it our own.

A Global Self

Finally, deepening our global consciousness requires that we shape our identity and sense of belonging to see ourselves as participating actors in a rich global matrix.  As we come into contact with new people, ideas, products or situations; as we take note of these experiences and seek to understand, we also deepen our understanding of ourselves and our role in this world of ours. No-where is Paul’s global self more powerfully expressed than in his persistent use of “we.” Notice for example the power of his sentence “We have been beachcombing far longer”–implying millions of years. Paul’s “we” embraces you, me, and all humanity in its most encompassing sense.

To conclude:  Another walk

As we saw, Paul’s walk invites us to develop our global consciousness, searching our place in a global human story.  Finding that place requires that we drastically expand the meaning of “we,” to include fellow humans across centuries and continents … And it is only fitting that we slow our pace to ponder the meaning of ‘we’ this week.  As I write this blog, the world has slowed down, momentarily, to honor the life and witness the passing of one of its finest children: Nelson Mandela.  Mandela stands tall, in our global human narrative, as an example of enlightened strength, unwavering magnanimity and commitment to justice, his reach far beyond South Africa’s national borders. In an unmatched expression of moral greatness, Mandela himself re-cast the meaning of “we” even further, to include the oppressor, the prison ward, the traitor. His life, remembered today in every corner of the world, reminds us that becoming globally conscious is not without challenges. Arguably, it demands global sensitivity, global understanding, and a developing global self. But is also requires that we recognize our impulses toward tribal belonging and our propensity for error, and yet move beyond these with generosity and conviction.

ImageNelson Mandela,  Soweto, July 2010


  1. […] goal of encouraging deep and meaningful connection-making and perspective-taking, along with global consciousness, as Veronica Boix-Mansilla describes. Ideally, the reflection and connection-making embedded in the […]

  2. […] defines as “global competence” (to learn more, see her recent blog contribution FINDING OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD). Does gazing outward help us to become better at looking inward or vice […]

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