Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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It’s A Small World, After All

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  January 16 / 23

Zack Gross

The expression “It’s A Small World” is appropriate in so many situations.  We might run into someone we know in a completely unexpected way and say “What a small world!”  Years ago, I was sitting in Heathrow Airport near London waiting for a flight to Africa when walking in and sitting down next to me was Prof. John Everitt, whom some of you would remember taught Geography at Brandon University.  He had been in England visiting his mother.

Another instance would be meeting someone new and finding out that they are relatives or friends of others you know well.  That “six degrees of separation” kind of experience.  One of my co-authors of the Fair Trade Handbook last year, I found out, was also from the North End of Winnipeg, just as I was, but left as a child and we hadn’t really met until decades later.  After growing up in Victoria, he now teaches in Halifax.  What a small world it is!

Then there is the simple but profound song, It’s a Small World, which is where the title of my regular Brandon Sun column comes from.  The Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, were award-winning American songwriters who wrote more motion picture musical song scores than any other duo, particularly for the Disney brand.  These included the music to Mary Poppins, the Jungle Book and the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  But their most played, most translated and most catchy tune was “It’s a Small World (After All).”

You might recall some of the lines. “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hope and a world of fears.  There’s so much we share that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.  There is just one moon, and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship for everyone.  Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”

You might hear this song (and sing it) at a worship service, or at a kids fun event.  You might feel warmed by its message.  And at this time in our human history, you might see both a warning and inspiration in the words.

We’ve seen in the past year how small the world can be when a pandemic, a war and a climate crisis all strike at the same time.  This is the arrival of a situation that has long been predicted, that in our modern world of globalization – travel, trade, technology and pushing the limits of our resources – our problems, our tragedies and our challenges would also be global.  That a disease in one part of the world will lead to a global pandemic.  That a war in one part of the world will cause massive migration, famine, inflation and economic hardship everywhere.  That our not taking care of our environment will mean wildfires in one place, drought in another, floods in another, and a super-storm somewhere else.

For an idealist like me, the “smile means friendship” lyrics have special meaning.  The warning and the inspiration are the mountains that divide and the oceans that are wide.  How do we overcome the divisions that we come up against personally, politically and culturally in order to solve the crises that we face?  Dangers and risks sometimes bring out the best in people, and sometimes they don’t.

Ten years ago, as a university lecturer working with students interested in current global issues, I could say with confidence that democracy was on the rise and that the world was “getting better
,” but now we see the opposite tendency in countries around the world.  A feature of democracy is having free and fair elections, and having the losing side leave office in an orderly fashion.  Another feature of a real democracy is that it not just about voting and elections, but that an active electorate and a responsive government work together to make life better for everyone.  A feature of a peaceful world is to resort to negotiation when difficult issues arise rather than invading those with whom one disagrees.  A feature of a sustainable world is governments, corporations and individuals adjusting their consuming and polluting behaviours in order to preserve our world for those coming after us.

So, that is our quest for 2023.  Remembering that it really is a small world after all.  I’ll stick around to remind folks every once in a while, but ultimately it’s up to all of us.

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Brandon-based international development organization, and co-author of the new book The Fair Trade Handbook: Building a Better World, Together.

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