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Salute to Mark Gerzon
Kosmos salutes Mark Gerzon for living his life as a global
citizen and for his remarkable skills in facilitating large-scale global
change. His pioneering work in developing global leaders will be a
model for future generations.
How do I, or you — or, for that matter, anyone — develop global
identity? Why am I so dedicated to fostering “global citizenship” and
“global leadership”? And what makes me care so much about what “global”
To share the story of how I took the fork in the road marked
“global” is not just an assignment for my mind. If it were a cerebral
tale (“Oh, I received a degree in international economics …”) or a
career move (“I was offered a job with the Foreign Ministry…”), perhaps I
would not have been reluctant. But for me it is an intensely personal
question that involves my heart more than my head.
When I was growing up in the American heartland, I appeared to be
an ordinary, basketball-crazed, girl-chasing guy with an identity shaped
by Washington, Wall Street and Hollywood. But, perhaps like you, seeds
were already planted deep inside me that would never let me be shaped by
any single culture.
I was, first of all, an immigrant. If my father, a Dutch refugee
during World War II, had been accepted at a university in Cape Town or
Buenos Aires or Sydney, I might be a South African, Argentinean or
Aussie. He was accepted by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where
I was born. My citizenship was determined by a Nazi despot and a
university admissions officer.
Unlike my friends, whose families told stories about places like
Nashville and Columbus and Lexington, my parents’ conversations alluded
to places with names like Rotterdam (where my Christian relatives lived)
and Auschwitz (where some of my Jewish relatives were murdered) and
Jogjakarta (where my mother, the daughter of Dutch missionaries, had
grown up). Unlike my friends’ grandparents, who were often buried in a
cemetery somewhere nearby, mine were buried across the ocean somewhere
in Holland, or lost in the ashes of a Nazi incinerator.
Later in my childhood, when I met other children of newcomers to
this continent, I became aware of the narrative called “immigration”.
But for many years, I kept looking for the parachute that had dropped
me, undamaged but unhinged, into the American Midwest.
From even my earliest years, I was aware of the “whole” of which
America was only a “part”. At age seven or eight, I remember the zeal
with which I learned to assemble the fifty pieces of the states of the
union jigsaw puzzle. Just as I was excited to see how all these piece
formed a country, so I was eager to learn how all the nations fit
together to form the world.
Anyone who has reflected on his or her genealogy, or “family
tree,” knows that he or she is only a twig on a branch. But for many of
us, this wider awareness is dulled by the particulars of our time and
place. As we grow up, we “fit in” more and more until, finally, we
actually accept the identity we are given. We think of ourselves in
terms of our neighborhood, or our nation, and forget that we are part of the whole.
As I look back, I realize that my greatest wound, that although I
grew up in America I never felt like an American, was also my greatest
gift. My gift was that, since I never felt like an American, I began
very early to identify with something larger. Like Tom Paine, the
American revolutionary author who wrote Common Sense, I felt that, “My country is the world. My fellow citizens are humankind.”
When I was accepted at Harvard College, I went to Cambridge keen
to learn about the world. But within a couple of years, I was restless. I
spent my junior year living with families and studying at universities
in seven countries: Japan, India, Turkey, Israel, Yugoslavia, Sweden,
and France. When I returned to Cambridge for my senior year, it no
longer dazzled me with its reputation as a renowned citadel of higher
education. I had found another university that I wanted to attend; the
campus was the earth, and the faculty was humanity itself.
No matter how much I traveled thereafter — living in Indonesia,
traveling through the Soviet Union and China, then to Nepal and Sri
Lanka, and later throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia and then
Africa — I was always struck by how little I knew. No matter how hard I
might try, I could never learn more than three or four languages, and
never understand more than a few cultures.
When I was in my late twenties, already married and the father of
two sons, I was offered a dream job, researching the feasibility of a
global newspaper and eventually becoming WorldPaper’s managing
editor. I loved the challenge of producing a monthly publication in five
languages with a circulation of over one million. It reflected the
wisdom of our Associate Editors from around the world (including such
giants as Mochtar Lubis from Indonesia and Hilary N’gweno from Kenya)
rather than the editorial bias of New York, Moscow or Tokyo. The
opportunity fueled my idealistic dream that I could make a living and a
life as a citizen of the world.
I have never let go of this dream. Whether it was bringing Soviet
and American filmmakers together to end the Cold War on the big screen,
or the World Economic Forum and World Social forum together to dialogue
about their differences and their common goals, I have always tried to
see the world as one. For several years I have been studying leaders who
have been effective at crossing national, ideological, cultural and
ethnic borders. These remarkable people, whom I call “leaders beyond
borders,” are the forerunners of the just, sustainable global
civilization that is shimmering on the horizon.
To help bring this vision into reality, I formed a global network
of similar souls. Our twenty-person network is now working together on a
book, workshops, and other projects dedicated to developing the
capacity for “global leadership” and “global citizenship”. Our shared
dream is to catalyze global schools, global companies, and global
institutions of governance that honor the spirit of millions of human
beings who know that, no matter where they live, their country is the
As evidenced by wars being waged in my name I have learned that it
is not easy to honor my allegiance to the planet when citizenship is
still determined by nation states. Human beings have divided the whole
into parts, and now the parts are competing for control. Even if I want to be a citizen of the whole, the parts have, for the moment, made that impossible.
No matter how much I may want to carry a global passport, mine is still
stamped in Washington, D.C. No matter how much I may want to receive my
news each morning from a global newspaper, I still have to choose among
news sources dominated by single nations or cultures. No matter how
much I may want my children to receive a global education, they still
are caught in a system that is shaped by a single nation’s government.
In other words, although I may be a global citizen in my heart I am
legally an American.
Although I love my country deeply, I am like a young man who
finally leaves home and falls in love with a woman. My love for my
mother country has been transcended by another greater and more mature
love. Yes, I am devoted to my country when it serves the larger world,
but I will be critical of my country when it does not. My loyalty is to
humanity’s welfare not just my neighbors’. My passion is for universal
not just national values. My faith is in a diverse and global
multiculture. If I risk my life in battle, it will be serving in a
global peacekeeping force, not the US army. And if I ever choose again
to put my hand over my heart and say a pledge of allegiance, it will be
to the emerging family of nations that comprise this fragile world.
I am now past the halfway point in my life. I am prepared to live
and die suspended between my national origins and my global identity.
But, I refuse to feel alone, or to remain silent, or to pretend to be
what I am not. We global citizens do not own a single plot of global
land. We global citizens do not have a truly global bank or a genuinely
global newspaper or even a global university. We global citizens cannot
cast a single global vote. We are and will remain refugees on this
planet unless and until we come together and say in unison: “We will be
divided no more.” Is this a call to revolution? No. Do I have a master
plan? Hardly. All I have is a plaintive cry in my heart for a world
without borders. All I want is a place where people like us — the
hyphens, the border-crossers, the “third-culture kids,” the ones who
refuse to live inside the boxes of their countries — can stand on this
planet, not in this country or that. If you have this cry in your heart
too, then let the world hear it. If our voices form a global chorus, it
can change the world.
Dubbed an “expert in civil discourse” by The New York Times, Mark Gerzon is the co-founder and co-director of the Global Leadership Network, an international organization whose members are leadership trainers from every region of the world. He is the best-selling author of several books.