By Joseph Mosse | Contributor
When I came back to America from Ukraine in the summer of 2014, many people asked about the political situation. Some people had thoughtful questions and insights. Others asked whether Ukraine was east or west of Russia.
Most of these people were friendly enough, but they didn't care much about something so far away from their everyday lives. For many of us, that's exactly how the news seems: distant. Some people follow politics and the news because they find it interesting. But if you aren't one of those people, why should you care at all about things happening thousands of miles away? Life here and now is complicated enough.
Historically, people have rarely shown much interest in current events beyond their own borders. Even today, a Ukrainian grandmother living in a village has little reason to be concerned with events anywhere much farther than the local city or town. She's much more concerned about her garden, cow, pigs, her neighbor across the muddy street or her son in the city.
Is it wrong for her to maintain such a narrow scope? No, not at all. Many of my Ukrainian friends have asked some pretty silly questions about America, but it never bothered me as much as the ignorance of Americans. Why? Why is it wrong for us if it's not wrong for them?
I certainly hope none of my readers are surprised to learn they are not, in fact, Ukrainian grandmas. Ukrainians generally need only worry about their neighbors: Russia on one side and the European Union on the other. Many other countries are in the same boat. This is not so with the United States.
We live in a great power of the modern world. There is no place on the globe that cannot feel our influence. Americans often fail to realize the inescapability of our own culture around the world. We are also fortunate enough to have been born in a country that takes into account the voices and votes of its citizens, granting each and every one of us a small degree of worldwide influence: a distribution of power unprecedented in human history. With power like that, we cannot afford to remain ignorant about the china shop we live in.
However, even in America, the weight of that responsibility is not distributed evenly. We as students should prioritize understanding current events and considering them in an informed way. We find ourselves in an incredibly privileged position. Few, even in the States, have access to the level of education we get. In the future, many of us will get the chance to exert even more influence on the world than most average Americans.
That doesn't mean we all have to be experts, or do an exhaustive research project on every country on the map. By the time you finish, a few more will have popped up, anyway. But we should at least have a basic understanding of the big issues of our day, and the historical context that brought them about. Every one of us should be able to find Syria on a map and point to the main routes refugees are taking into Europe. Every one of us should be able to find Russia, China and (for goodness sakes) our own country on a map. If we knew where Ukraine is too, I wouldn't complain.
We should all have enough of an understanding of the broad issues and pressing questions in the world today to be able to handle political, social and cultural issues thoughtfully and carefully, recognizing the potential consequences of American actions and attitudes. It's all really just a part of being good neighbors.