After nine months of meeting and talking with literally thousands of people across the planet during my pole-to-pole circumnavigation and global peace mission, and interviewing more than 50 of them about what it means to be a “Citizen of the World,” I’d like to share what I learned along the way.
Once I had been away from home for about two months, my perspective started to change. I began to forget about the things I liked doing back in San Diego and started replacing them with other things. I always loved walking and working out in Balboa Park; it’s been a magical place for me where I could restore my sense of inner peace and receive what the Universe had to offer me.
Fast-forward eight weeks to Sitges, Spain, where I lived during the most intense lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe. Every few days I would walk down the mountain to the market, and was most often the only person out on the street. At the market, I would load up with bags of groceries and then walk home. Over time, I could carry more and more, while enjoying the view of the old town, harbor, ocean, and mountain. During these walks I would fall into a deeply reflective state of mind and felt connected once again to everyone and everything in a unique way. It was a stunningly beautiful experience and one of the many steps that redefined me as a “Citizen of the World.”
The same thing happened when I met new people on my journey. I was spending time with wonderful new friends I met like Claes and Inger Martinson at Gotland Island Airport off the coast of Sweden. I ate dinner with them, pulled weeds with them, compared thoughts on the world, and shared my love of aviation while living at their beautiful airport museum prior to taking off to cross the North Pole.
My view of different cultures changed—I saw people cooperating rather than competing. In fact, in some places competing was frowned upon until the age of 12! Growing up I was always encouraged to stand out and be “better” than others. On this expedition I realized my perspective–shaped by my upbringing–was a very different and divisive way to see other people. All the people along the way who helped me, even when it wasn’t necessarily to their initial benefit, helped me see that when we work together, we can accomplish so much more. I came to understand that working together as “Citizens of the World” would be the only way ahead for the planet as we tackle things that we never would have expected like the coronavirus.
This transformation within me continued to happen in each country I visited. My definition of home changed and expanded. These new elements along with hearing diverse answers from people about what it meant to them to be a “Citizen of the World” gave me greater clarity and began to redefine me. Clearly a time of personal evolution, I did not always feel comfortable in the midst of everything that was happening in the world. At times I felt lost and confused, but I kept choosing faith over fear as this new way of being filtered into my daily life. This perspective flew in the face of what I had been taught. After nine months of exploring the most remote parts of the planet and the most different cultures during some of the most difficult times the world has known, I came to realize the following things about what it means to be a “Citizen of the World”:
A Citizen of the World is someone who doesn’t wait for others to change the world for them. Instead, a Citizen of the World has the courage to go out into the world using whatever resources they can draw upon and become the change they want to see. We must first start with ourselves, and by example, others have the opportunity to learn from our positive actions.
A Citizen of the World respectfully listens to but does not rely on input from others through the media, politics, or religion to formulate their view of the world. They formulate their worldview based on their own global experiences. By traveling outside their home country and meeting others, shaking hands, looking people straight in the eye and seeing that these “others” are struggling just like themselves helps them see we are more the same than different and helps to develop new and lasting bonds. When we see the “common” in common humanity, we are more able to work together to overcome hardships, share in each other’s successes, and shape a better future for everyone and the planet.
A Citizen of the World is someone who can truly listen to what others are saying and feeling. Listening to and feeling what others are communicating totally and completely is the most important thing we can do for another human being. To be truly heard is what we all long for. People have never been taught to truly listen. They try and anticipate what someone is going to say and feel and then start to formulate an answer before the other person is even through talking. We must try to be as present as we can, hold our thoughts in silence and neutrality while others are speaking, and truly and completely hear what this other soul is trying to express. This is a powerful bonding experience that allows our deepest thoughts, truths, and dreams to be revealed to each other. In this process we learn more about ourselves and how powerful and empowering our connection with others can be when we actively listen.
A Citizen of the World rises above the boundaries or borders that people have placed on the world and sees diversity as humanity’s superpower. This superpower is perhaps most noticeable when borders are open. For example, when I’m flying between countries in the Citizen of the World Gulfstream Twin Commander 900 there are no walls or boundaries as I cross over different countries. The only thing while I’m flying that reminds me that I’m in a different state or country are my aviation charts and air traffic control. Flying is the ultimate metaphor for those things that do not divide, restrict or limit. Flying allows us to spread our emotional wings and experience how it feels to connect to the rest of the world without labels, definitions, walls and borders that separate us and instead, flying can bring us together.
A Citizen of the World is someone who has perspective. Flying, thinking, and viewing the Earth at higher altitudes allows us to see the world in a different and more complete way. We can see how things connect, affect others, and calibrate in relation to other things. Imagine standing next to a river versus seeing it from 35,000 feet. From high above, we can connect the dots more easily; things on the ground begin to make more sense. We start to think on a global scale, see how all the players are impacted both upstream and downstream, and act in a unified direction.
A Citizen of the World learns the lessons from life’s challenges so they can continue to grow and expand until everyone and everything is connected as One. Making “mistakes” is part of being human and going for it. There is success even in perceived failure because we have tried. When we let go of self-judgment, we begin to see others and ourselves with awareness and compassion, the two wings of freedom. Our mindful growth increases our positive impact on others and moves the planet forward.
A Citizen of the World is not afraid to be the example by sharing their passion with others. Shared passions, even the ones that are so big they scare us, inspire others to their greatness. Passion ignites a fire in others that encourages them to keep reaching for their impossibly big dreams. Passion can direct humanity to the next step in its collective evolution. Seeing people express their passion and struggle to achieve their goals are such powerful lessons for humanity to learn. Passion transforms fear into courage and paralysis analysis into inspired action on the journey.
From this journey of exploration and growth we learn that the world won’t be changed for the better solely from behind a computer but by going out into the world, making contact with others, and showing kindness and concern for everyone we meet. Seeing and taking the time to really understand the challenges all people share, the emotions we all feel, and the common language of pain and suffering, love and joy, that we all speak is part of sharing the expanding human experience—and it’s so easy to miss when we’re lost in comparison, competition, separation and isolation. The world puts barriers in front of us to test our clarity, determination, and desire for growth. Overcoming these challenges together through respect, listening, diversity, perspective, life-long learning and passion makes us all stronger and connects us globally as One.
The time for this global connection is now! No single person, company or country can do it alone. The world needs this positive change now more than ever and it will take every one of us as “Citizens of the World for the World” working together to manifest a better, more connected, loving, and peaceful world.
One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity.