Geography for a Sustainable Life

by Amy on October 8, 2017

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that to live truly sustainable lives we should all have a knowledge of geography – at least a rudimentary knowledge – because through geography we can learn to understand each other, to understand each other’s needs, beliefs and cultures.  We can also understand the challenges that others face.  Through this understanding we can build empathy and find common ground. With this we can learn to work together.

Without a knowledge of geography there is the danger of talking past each other instead of looking for common ground.  This was brought home to me today when I was in Princeton and happened to overhear this conversation between a female customer and the restaurant owner:

Man: Where are you from?
Woman: Michigan
Man: Near Detroit?
Woman: No. I have never been to Detroit. I live near Muskegon.
Man: I have never been outside of New Jersey except to go on a school trip to New York City.  I would like to see Detroit and maybe Chicago someday.
Woman: Where are you from?
Man: Guatemala but I have lived in NJ for 20 years.
Woman: Oh, Guatemala. That is near St. Thomas, right?
Man: No. Guatemala is in Central America
Woman: Oh, near Chile.
Man: No, that is in South America.  Guatemala is just below Mexico, near Honduras.
Woman: Oh, near that island that got destroyed…Barbubela or something like that (aside: that would be Barbuda)
Man: No, Guatemala isn’t an island. It is…
Woman: Oh. There’s my friend. Bye.
And off she went.
Man: …speechless….
She had no idea where Guatemala is nor did she seem to care.
He was eager to help her understand and he seemed eager tell his story.
He sought common ground – her lack of knowledge of geography left them with no basis to develop a conversation and find that common ground.
It was a missed opportunity.

We have many issues facing the world today: climate change, immigration or global migration, terrorism, bullying, threatened aggressiveness, to list a few. By understanding others – knowing where they come from – we take the first steps to acceptance of the fact that, no matter how distant our homes or how unfamiliar looking we are or how different our cultures are, we are all people with the same basic needs and desires. Through this understanding we can develop collaborative, mutually beneficial solutions to these and other global issues allowing us all to live full, healthy, sustainable lives.

It all begins with geography.

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