Opinion: Why We Should Think Globally

Joan McGuire

Currents of isolationism, xenophobia and autarchy threaten peaceful global connection.

Share this article!

I love Oregon. I grew up here and am proud to be leading WorldOregon, a nonprofit organization that connects Oregonians to international perspectives, intercultural education and global exchanges. I served our country abroad in Latin America and Asia for years as a foreign service officer of the U.S. Department of State. While overseas in U.S. embassies, I learned from international examples and proudly shared with them the accomplishments and problems in our state.

However, after returning to the Portland metro area, I was struck by how often Oregon does not sufficiently focus on the lessons, challenges and achievements from other parts of the world.

The infamous Oregon drivers’ approach to navigating a four-way stop — thinking they are polite in deferring to the other drivers but in reality causing traffic to back up and tempers to flare — can often feel like a metaphor for the way Oregonians approach a tough problem, with delays to real solutions after too many meetings without progress. Participants often will look at the issue in a bubble, instead of looking at how other regions are tackling similar problems and gaining fresh perspective.

I am not minimizing how difficult democratic decisions can be, but as Greater Portland Inc.’s best-practices missions to other metro areas have shown, democratic decision-making in other U.S. and international regions often uses more efficient paths to progress without sacrificing minority rights.

Climate change, for instance, is such a pressing issue threatening our very existence that tough calls will have to be made rapidly, even if that makes people unhappy and requires real sacrifice.

It is critical to approach the future knowing that Oregon does not operate in a vacuum — or even in a solely domestic setting. The world does not end at our borders. Oregon, like other states or provinces around the world, operates in a global context.

To make that statement is not to take an ideological position on globalization but rather to choose to engage with the world. Whenever I have the opportunity to travel abroad, I observe multiple instances where individuals, companies and governments are looking globally for inspiration, well aware of the competition. They benchmark progress against the U.S. and other countries.

Due to our geography, history and wealth, we have often had the luxury to look inward and ignore the rest of the world until it was forced on us. We must proactively address our shrinking globe.

Oregon and the U.S. are players on the world stage. Look at international trade, the global supply chain and foreign direct investment, and their impacts on Oregon’s economy, as well as migration trends with immigrants seeking new opportunities and refugees needing safe resettlement in Oregon.

Oregonians need to face the future holding on to our spirit of building consensus and tackling challenges optimistically, while also accepting that for many problems, time is not an infinite resource. We put future generations in peril and risk being left in the dust if we fail to find ways to tackle tough issues.

After returning to the Portland metro area, I was struck by how often Oregon does not sufficiently focus on the lessons, challenges and achievements from other parts of the world.

The important focus on diversity, equity and inclusion highlights the crossover of the intercultural and international as Oregon organizations increasingly plan with the global context in mind. WorldOregon partners with globally minded companies, universities, nonprofits and individuals throughout the state that regularly look internationally.

WorldOregon was founded in 1950 as a nonpartisan nonprofit that believes that deeper global understanding and engagement is essential to a more peaceful world. Today WorldOregon’s mission is more relevant and important than ever as currents of isolationism, xenophobia and autarchy threaten peaceful global connection.

Our role is not to advocate for which policies are the best for our state; that is the arena for elected officials, voters and policy-focused organizations. WorldOregon’s role is to facilitate global conversations for Oregonians. Encourage your children and their teachers to engage with organizations to nurture global conversations. Attend international events and challenge what you know about the world. Volunteer to meet with visionary adults and youth from around the world. Share your professional expertise or host them for dinner or a homestay.

International experts visit Oregon for some of the same reasons that young professionals migrate here, and Oregonians sharing their expertise provide all involved with a crucial global context. Join with us as we connect Oregon with the world.

Derrick Olsen is the president of WorldOregon, a nonpartisan nonprofit.