Global Awareness – An Integrated Worldview

global awareness

In 1976, Robert G. Hanvey wrote an essay entitled, “An Attainable Global Perspective,” in which he thoughtfully explored the possibilities for the education of students who would soon become adults in a world where cultural interpenetration would reach never-before seen depths.  The concept of global awareness is based on the idea that through enlightened education, we can foster attitudes which recognize and appreciate the extraordinary immensity, complexity, and diversity of the planet on which we live. Global awareness is an absolute must if one is to succeed in any kind of global business.

According to Hanvey, there are five dimensions of global awareness: perspective consciousness, state-of-the planet awareness, cross-cultural awareness, awareness of global dynamics, and awareness of human choices. These five dimensions form the foundational attitudes upon which global awareness can be implemented.

Five Dimensions of Global Awareness

 Perspective Consciousness

… the recognition or awareness on the part of the individual that he or she has a view of the world that is not universally shared, that this view of the world has been and continues to be shaped by influences that often escape conscious detection, and that others have views of the world that are profoundly different from one’s own.

The idea behind cultivating perspective consciousness is to encourage people to see beyond popular or conventional opinion – to make people vividly aware of their own cultural biases, biases which many people refuse to admit they have.  To see beyond a cultural bias, a person has to be willing to challenge everyday unexamined assumptions, evaluations, and explanations that he or she has been given about the world.  Our “perspectives are shaped by ethnic, religious, differences in age, sex, and social status, among many other factors… [and these differences] have been one of the main causes of conflict and confrontation in the history of mankind.”  If we cannot understand this basic premise, global awareness is not possible.

In order to transcend this kind of subtle indoctrination, global awareness encourages people to critically examine everything they hear, especially that which they hear through typical modes of transmission, such as mass media.  Only through critical examination and thoughtful reflection can one overcome popularized public opinion and thus develop individual global awareness.

State of the Planet Awareness

An awareness of prevailing world conditions and development, including emergent conditions and trends, e.g. population growth, migrations, economic conditions, resources and physical environment, political developments, science and technology, law, health, inter-nation and intra-nation conflicts, etc.

It may be hard to imagine, but there was once a time when the internet was not available. For state of the planet awareness we once had to rely on television, radio, magazines, and newspapers for information – notoriously unreliable sources.  Now, the internet has opened windows into virtually every part of the world. We can now see the immediate effects of over-population, deforestation, nuclear fallout, oil spills, and warfare. Our only limitation to developing state-of-the-planet awareness is our own selective disinterest in what happens in the world as a result of human action.  In his original essay Hanvey asked, “Can a problem like catastrophic [deforestation] be widely comprehended so that it becomes a living part of what a general populace knows about the planet? Or are such problems fated to stay within the private realms of specialists?”

Thanks to the internet, the answer to first question is “yes” and to the second “no”.  Through global awareness education, we can teach students from the earliest grades on how to examine the effects of “seemingly innocent behaviors” such as massive use of chemical fertilizers on suburban lawns. They can ask questions like, “What does this do to the underlying soil?” or “What are the long term effects of massive deforestation on biodiversity, the water cycle, and soil erosion?” 

Cross-Cultural Awareness

Awareness of the diversity of ideas and practices to be found in human societies around the world, of how such ideas and practices compare, and including some limited recognition of how the ideas and ways of one’s own society might be viewed from other vantage points.

Cross cultural awareness fosters intercultural sensitivity, something which is becoming more and more important as our daily lives become more globally interactive.  An international workplace is exponentially more common than it was only 25 years ago.   A 2005 study showed “employees with high intercultural sensitivity scored significantly higher than employees with lower intercultural sensitivity in terms of service attentiveness, revenue contribution, interpersonal skills, job satisfaction and social satisfaction as they relate to cross-cultural encounters.”

Through cultural cross-training people can acquire the behavioral, cognitive, and effective competencies required for intercultural interaction.  Again in order to really benefit from this kind of training, one must be willing to respect differences in customs and viewpoints in a way that goes beyond intellectual understanding.  Lower level cross cultural awareness is superficial and only shows an awareness of stereotypical cultural traits – traits a person considers “bizarre, unbelievable, frustrating, or primitive.”  These levels of awareness do not go beyond what a person hears on mass media newscasts or remembers reading in a National Geographic 40 years ago. Higher levels of awareness first attain intellectual understanding through compassionately interested research and discovery, where cultural differences are believable and even comprehendible. And the rarest and highest levels of cross cultural awareness come from immersive experiences where a person can actually feel what it is like to live in another culture and see from that culture’s perspective.

Knowledge of Global Dynamics

Comprehension of key trails and mechanisms of the world system, with emphasis on theories and concepts that may increase intelligent consciousness of global change.

The idea here is to foster both an understanding of the world as an interconnected system and an understanding of the basic principles of change:  What will happen if we make decision A as opposed to decision B?” Knowledge of global dynamics includes an ability to explore the long term effects of climate change, soil depletion, political and socio-economic structures and policies, and governmental regulations.   Knowledge of global dynamics would also include studying the effects of a global economy. Knowledge of global dynamics will also facilitate an understanding of the effects of the interaction of world cultures on art, religion, and literature.  In addition, the study of global dynamics reveals the myriad ways in which a culture’s economy, society, politics, religion, and culture are inextricably linked to global trends, tendencies, and characteristics.

Awareness of Human Choices

Some awareness of the problems of choice confronting individuals, nations, and the human species as consciousness and knowledge of the global system expands.

This last dimension of a global perspective – awareness of human choices – comes about as a result of attaining ever-increasing levels of awareness.  At this level of awareness is the acceptance of responsibility and accountability for the choices we make and for the effects those choices will have on the future generations.  From this perspective, we can no longer make choices that are based only on short-term results or for our immediate convenience.


An Integrated Worldview

Global awareness is an integrated worldview which is capable of exploring the complexities of globalization and how it shapes economic relationships and affects culture.  We will let Robert G. Hanvey’s own words from his essay sum up what this really means for education and for the world as a whole,

Education for a global perspective is that learning which enhances the individual’s ability to understand his or her condition in the community and the world and improves the ability to make effective judgments. It includes the study of nations, cultures, and civilizations, including our own pluralistic society and the societies of other peoples, with a focus on understanding how these are all interconnected and how they change, and on the individual’s responsibility in this process. It provides the individual with a realistic perspective on world issues, problems and prospects, and an awareness of the relationships between an individual’s enlightened self-interest and the concerns of people elsewhere in the world.