Think Global: How Anthropology Makes You a Better Thinker

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

By David Rincón | Colombia


A couple weeks ago, I saw a mother tying her son’s shoelace. He was around eight years old and she must have been in her thirties. The child observed his mother’s hand shifting around two or three times the same knot, making sure everything stood in place.


Watching the scene, I remembered Marcus Aurelius’ book seven of Meditations where he cited Plato: “If you want to talk about people, you have to look down on the Earth from above. Herds, armies, farms, weddings, divorces, births, deaths, noisy courtrooms, desert places, all the foreign people’s holidays, days of mourning, market days, all mixed together, a harmony of opposites”.


Following Plato’s advice, I imagined the same situation unfolding elsewhere: in the war-razed downtown of Aleppo, in the century-old Bishop street of Havana, and in the high-end neighborhood of Yorkville in Toronto. Despite the different contexts, how similar they looked! I had witnessed a phenomenon that, under a different cultural dress, could be happening simultaneously in another part of the globe.


Global Thinking is a principle of anthropological training


In their first and second years of university, anthropology students practice their comparing and contrasting skills by inquiring and writing about the same phenomenon in different cultures. With time, students go beyond the paper and think globally in their everyday life. A desire to observe humanity through the simplicity of daily life pulls them to “see the world from above”. As a result, everyday affairs take new connotations.


Want to read more about anthropology? Check this article.


For example, the morning coffee becomes a reflection exercise where the hot mug appears in various cultural forms. The student reflects on the act of sipping coffee and considers its multiple manifestations across the planet. The outcome places reality in a global frame where daily actions are no longer isolated events.


The benefits of Global Thinking are not reserved for Greek philosophers and anthropology trainees. Anyone able to think can benefit from its practice. Here are some advantages of doing so:


1. Sharper thought processes:

As one event happens under distinct cultural costumes, Global Thinking broadens the horizon of possibilities, revealing new paths of becoming. These paths shed light on personal prejudices as the mind struggles to conceive a different life from the one it knows. Being conscious of the prejudices minimizes the effects of biases in the thought process. The result is a sharper judgment of the world, where the mind eliminates dead ends and finds solutions in spaces previously clouded by “obviousness”. In other words, Global Thinking is better thinking.


2. More connected reality:

How motivating is it to consider that what we do and see is happening somewhere else? How stimulating is it to undertake a task that humans elsewhere are doing for their own purposes? Global Thinking locates the immediate present in a greater frame of occurrences – it is a way to see humanity and its millennia-old issues to the eyes.


3. Everyday life becomes richer:

Comparison reveals the details. A tomato soup is nothing more than the mix of tomato, water, and spices until another soup stands next to it. Together, the soups’ qualities contrast a lot better, honing their flavors and textures. The same happens with cultural phenomena. By considering numerous cultural representations of the same event side to side, perception gets brighter: the details become more palpable, attributes more noticeable, and contrasts more evident.


Whether it is a mother tying her son’s shoelaces, a couple dinning together, or a family attending a funeral, Plato’s suggestion appears as a unique approach to life. Moreover, as society seeks for global empathy to overcome local problems, Global Thinking might become a moral principle worth trying.

 

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