In Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses two ideas that make up the whole of Cosmopolitanism. He wrote;
“One is the idea that we have obligations to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship. The other is that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance.”
So, Appiah argues that cosmopolitanism is this balance of humans being inherently obligated and connected to one another and learning about the differences among us so we can better value one another. With this in mind, as I have pondered my travels and experiences while abroad in Europe this semester, I’ve come to realize that to me, cosmopolitanism consists of humans learning about the differences among us, be it in our religion, art, language etc., and in turn finding the similarities between us within those differences.
One instance in which I firmly made this cosmopolitan connection was while visiting a Hindu Temple just on the outer rims of London. Prior to visiting this temple, or Mandir as the Hindu’s called it, I had had preconceived notions about the Hindu faith. I thought they were polytheistic for example and thought their various gods were represented through different animals and human-like figures. In all reality, as I came to learn, the Hindus only believed in one God, like me. They also believed in serving others like me, and devoting themselves to their God like me. Though the Hindu faith is very different from my LDS faith, I was able to find similarities within our differences and as a result I came away from the Mandir with a better understanding and respect for them and their practices.
Another occasion that I had to make a cosmopolitan connection was when, as a program, we were studying poems by Tennyson in our English class and learning about Britain as superpower in my English Class. Throughout the lectures in both class periods, we discussed this idea of imperialistic way of thought, seen in Tennyson’s heroic poems and in British history’s conquering of the world. I realized that though I lived in a very different time period than those I was learning about, I also had tendencies similar to Tennyson’s and those of Britain as a superpower. I too wanted to be the hero, taking more than my share. Perhaps not literally in taking over the world as in the time of imperial Britain, but in friendships, leadership roles, and within my own family. Though we were in very different circumstances, I found similarities between myself and those I was learning about, and it led me to better understand and respect these historical figures.
Throughout the aforementioned (and so many more) experiences in which my definition of cosmopolitanism was put to the test, I have come to learn that as a Latter-Day Saint in the 21st century bound by covenant to each and every member of a world-wide church that is fundamentally committed to missionary work, I have an important role to play. I have this cosmopolitan responsibility to learn about other people’s differences in comparison to my life and faith and find myself and make connections in these very differences so I can love and respect others the way the Savior did. With this cosmopolitan attitude, I have the opportunity to learn and share parts of myself and my faith, and in turn learn and receive the different parts of others.
The experiences that I’ve had abroad in which I have had the opportunity to make cosmopolitan connections have also given me the chance to learn some life-long, valuable lessons and develop good habits that I know I will reflect on and will influence me in the future. Since my arrival in London, I have begun learning something from everything. Be it art, or history, or small and simple things like the inconsequential conversations between my peers or the different people on the Tube, I can learn something from it all. Travel abroad has also given me a chance to learn to better adapt in various situations. Travel comes with wrenches in plans, and unavoidable spontaneity. This newfound ability to adapt in these unfamiliar situations will prove to be incredibly valuable to me as life comes with wrenches in plans, and unavoidable spontaneity. I know the experiences and lessons and habits resulting from cosmopolitan connections I’ve discovered during my time abroad will serve me and those close to me far into the future.
The chance that I’ve had here in London, and throughout all my travels this semester to learn about the differences between myself and others and then find the similarities within them has opened my eyes not only to better understand various people, but to better understand myself. This truly immersive cosmopolitan experience that I’m so lucky to have been a part of this semester has altered the way I think and the way I act, especially towards others and I can’t wait to fully understand the ways that this experience will affect me in the future.