The New Local
Incorporating the best of “global” with the best of “local”…
Evolving from face-to-face, to race-to-race and place-to-place.
The epitome of social health and happiness, the assumed “best” method of communication is face-to-face, and the science supports it. But in our world of climate change and war, when humans as an entire planet are facing the same related challenges, are we evolving socially with technology that allows collaboration between people who would never have met otherwise? Everything Ripples does is connected to people, some of whom we can’t see or touch. The “faceless” masses are involved in spreading sustainability far and wide. True collaboration on green and social justice issues requires working at a global scale, without forgetting local actions and impacts. Creating a geographically dispersed network strengthens the likelihood that we’ll be successful locally. We become stronger as a local community by reaching out to those nationally and internationally who have good ideas.
Can our concept of local stretch to include the best friend we Skype with every Monday? It sounds strange and counter-intuitive, but if that friend just told us how to locally harvest rainwater and we do it, aren’t they a part of our success? It isn’t an exclusively local effort to bring rainwater to our garden, in that case. Or maybe it is. What if our friend on Skype is originally from our local area, but is studying abroad or visiting relatives – are they still local? What if they move to London and are still helping us with our garden, are they local enough? And what if that friend isn’t from our local area at all, but they lead an online gardening class that we participate in – is that considered “not local” even though we obviously are local when we apply what we’ve learned?
This week’s Making Ripples column in The Free Weekly explores the issue of how we define local, and why it can benefit us to expand our definition (or create a new concept). “Think Globally, Act Locally” is a catchy phrase I’ve always liked, but I notice people thinking globally without engaging the globe, so to speak. A person might think about the starving children in Africa, but turn down a partnership with an African businesswoman who helps refugee children survive. The trouble with merely thinking is that there isn’t enough communication in it. People may believe that the African businesswoman has no business locally, no connection to or effect upon our local community, but a short conversation with her would prove this belief inaccurate.
Whenever I talk or write about something perceived as locally applicable, like composting at a community garden, people light up. It’s wonderful, awesome, cool! It’s local. But when the subject becomes clean drinking water free of pollutants in some far-off country, people think in terms of charity: Oh, that’s nice. That’s not local, it doesn’t affect me. But it will, when Texas wants Arkansas water. It will, when countries go to war over water. It will, when someone else living somewhere else decides to pollute our groundwater locally.
How Far Can Happiness Spread?
Sometimes the most unsustainable action we can take is to cut our communities off from outside communication about shared challenges and potential solutions. Sometimes the most sustainable action we can take is to incorporate aspects of “global” into our definition of local. And here’s the big question in my mind – can we as individuals benefit as much from long-distance relationships as we currently do from local relationships? In other words, could redefining our concept of local bring our far-away best friends a lot closer psychologically, thereby increasing not only our local capacity to live a sustainable lifestyle, but also our physical health?
“A friend who lives within a mile (about 1.6 km) and who becomes happy increases the probability that a person is happy by 25% (95% confidence interval 1% to 57%). Similar effects are seen in coresident spouses (8%, 0.2% to 16%), siblings who live within a mile (14%, 1% to 28%), and next door neighbors (34%, 7% to 70%). Effects are not seen between coworkers. The effect decays with time and with geographical separation.” From what we know today, “happiness requires close physical proximity to spread…” But could this change with the emerging global village, in which we all “belong to the same place”? I don’t know, but I have a feeling that if it could, if we could become happy when others across the globe become happy, everyone everywhere is going to be a heck of a lot happier. And since it’s hard to be happy when your water is polluted and making you sick, I figure there will be a heck of a lot less pollution, too.