By Dmitry Zhdankin, HBS Class of 2017
In an airplane on my way back to Boston, I flipped through the pages in my passport. Several of them were now filled with brand new stamps from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and—my FIELD2 destination—the Philippines. They now officially confirmed that I got a chance to visit Asia.
Yet despite this freshly imprinted confirmation, something about the stamps looked odd. In comparison to the borderless world of tech we have grown so used to, the practice of inking a piece of paper in someone’s identity booklet to signify that so-and-so has crossed an imaginary line separating some swaths of land seemed dated. Indeed, it felt as if the stamps signified that there was something inherently different between me, the holder of the passport, and the people living within the borders of the countries I’ve been to.
Nonetheless, one of the most valuable experiences of FIELD2 was a reminder that despite the obvious cultural and linguistic differences, the similarities among people in various corners of the world are profound. Speaking with the residents of Manila about their healthcare needs, I learned that their views were fundamentally indistinguishable from that of a resident in Cambridge, or any other place in the world for that matter. What the people I spoke with wanted was to make sure that they would be able to access a reliable doctor when they or their loved ones were sick. I felt optimistic. Perhaps there is a lot more common ground than one could imagine?
As our projects were wrapping up, the terrorist attacks in Jakarta and Istanbul—two other FIELD2 destinations—pointed out my naïveté. Why would someone detonate a chest-strapped bomb in a crowded area but to highlight the perception of otherness and provoke further mutual aggression? At the same time, the ongoing nationalistic rhetoric from political hopefuls in the U.S. and Europe proclaimed a similar sentiment: get out of my lawn.
I struggled trying to reconcile the feeling of common identity I experienced during FIELD2 and the recently pronounced politics of national antagonism. Of course, borders still matter and will continue to do so for years to come, placing national interest above that of our shared global challenges. Yet, not all is lost. For example, the success of recent global initiatives such as COP21 in Paris signifies that every so often we are able to agree with one another across borders. What would it take to sustain the possibility of a cooperative global spirit?
Erecting new walls, as has been suggested by some political candidates in the US, surely, is not the answer. It is quite the opposite: we must work towards eliminating the illusory barriers that exist between us. The first step would be to recognize that notwithstanding our national differences, our humanity is both shared and borderless. Indeed, issues as diverse as armed conflict, pandemics, and climate change are unconstrained by visa stamps. It is therefore quite natural that our empathy and a sense of responsibility for one another should also span across borders.