Home > Blog: Currents & Futures > Building A Sustainable World Community For All — Excerpts from an Interview

 Shariff Abdullah is an author and advocate for inclusivity and the social/ spiritual transformation of society. Shariff is a transformationist, working to align our global human societies with our common spiritual and moral values. His vision and work for a world that works for all beings stems from his spiritual awareness and his experiences in over 100 distinct cultures, spanning 38 countries. He is founder and director of Commonway Institute.

TGCI Executive Director, Ron Israel, and Newsletter Editor Jono Newton, conducted the following interview with Shariff.

TGCI: We are interested in your own definition / vision of what a “global citizen” is, based on the work you’ve done. How does this concept resonate with you?

SA: I have been to 38 different countries and over 100 distinct cultures (I mention cultures because lots of people go to many countries but stay at the Sheraton and eat at McDonald’s and never leave their own cultures). Having had deep experiences in so many cultures, I begin to see my home base (in Portland, OR) as just another culture.

My brand of global citizenship might be described more accurately as a “global culturalship” because it really is about perceiving and harmonizing with the many different cultures (sets of behaviors, attitudes, expectations etc), that exist around the world. There is a tendency among humans to think that their own culture or citizenship is the only one, or the norm from which everyone else deviates. This kind of thinking lends itself to cultural and political imperialism and separateness, and leads to wars, civil strife etc. The challenge of being a global citizen is not racking up frequent flyer miles and seeing how many countries you can visit, but really shifting your consciousness so that you are able to see the similarities as well as the differences in cultures around the world.

TGCI: If you achieve this perspective, I imagine you see all cultures as being relative and having their own world view? Where do the commonalities come in?

SA: Yes, this gets a little tricky. Right now I’m talking to you from Portland Oregon. I can, without any trouble, look out my window and see 5 or 6 subcultures here in Portland: some people with ties, some with baggy clothes, or tattoos, or no tattoos etc., but I’m seeing them within the context of a unified culture.

When I’m talking about cultural difference I’m not just talking about differences in how people dress or eat their food. I refer to these differences or perspectives as MMAAPPSS (or “MAPS-2”), which stands for: Methodologies, Materials, Attitudes, Assumptions, Patterns, Paradigms, Systems and Structures. When there’s a fundamentally different set of MAPS-2, you have cultural differences. The more different, the more significant the cultural difference. That’s what causes people to start thinking that the way that I do things is “right” and the way you do things is therefore not right. That I am “normal”, which makes you “abnormal”.

The MAPS-2 of Western European culture has been the most pervasive culture and norm for a long time. It failed to take into account the values of our common humanity, as well as our common bond with other beings on the planet.

To me, “global citizenship” is not restricted to just human beings. Global “beingness” means connecting with all beings on this planet. That gives you a very different take on what being a global citizen means. A lot of people will say “I’m a global citizen because I’ve visited a lot of countries and didn’t bomb them while I was there”.

I take it deeper than that. I focus on the concept of inclusivity: the concept that I am one with you — whether or not we share the same experiences, and whether or not we like each other. Liking each other is almost irrelevant. The more important question is: do I have the attitude and assumption that I am you.

TGCI: having the attitude and assumption that I am you and one with you, do you mean that on a vibrational level , or are there some shared values involved?

I’ve read just about every holy book I can get my hands on, and I look across them. I read them for their commonalities, not to collect ammunition for separation. From these wisdom traditions, and from the books, and how people actually practice, I see that there are 10 universal principles and values. (Here Shariff referred us to the following list of 10 common values, distilled by him from the world’s major wisdom traditions)


1. Love/ Agape/ Metta (loving-kindness)

2. Peace/ Ahimsa/ Nonviolence/ Dra-la

3. Compassion/ Service/ Dana/ (caring for others)

4. Forgiveness/ Tolerance/ Karma

5. Patience/ Humility/ Surrender

6. Golden Rule/ Inclusivity/ Equanimity

7. Righteousness/ Dharma/ Truth/ Tao/ Authenticity/ Purity

8. Joy/ Gratitude/ Acknowledgment/ Fulfillment/ Happiness

9. Responsibility/ Empowerment/ Action

10. Awakened Consciousness

I can find some level of all of these values ascribed to in all cultures.

However, the truth is that most cultures believe these things, yet practice almost the opposite of these values. If people actually practiced their values, there would be no need for my organization or yours. There is lots of evidence that we’re not practicing the universal values.

TGCI: Does the concept of justice belong here as well?

SA: I’ve been asked this before. I’m struggling with the concept of justice, because I find it means different things to different people. Most people think that “justice” means a behavior shift in someone else, not “me”. They don’t apply justice to themselves. They consider themselves the definition of justice. I recognize the importance of justice as a value, but also recognize that, the way it’s used, it’s a way people stop looking at their own behavior and focus solely on someone else’s. This is always dangerous.

TGCI: Could you talk for a few minutes on a personal level about how you got to where you are?

SA: I cannot remember a time when the mission to create a world that works for all was not present. It was clearly there when I was in single digits. I had a very strong notion that the world could work for all – and that it wasn’t.

I had –early-on- a very strong notion growing up in Camden, New Jersey, (Time Magazine’s “Worst City in America”), that things were wrong there. I had a deep sense of wrongness I couldn’t articulate. This came into focus when I heard Malcolm X speak for the first time. From Malcolm X, I got the perspective that the reason things weren’t working in Camden was because of “white power”, and that I needed to be working to create a world that works for all black people, because all white people were fine (Both Ozzie and Harriet looked like they were having a ball).

So I became part of black power movement at 11, before the movement even had a name. But by the time I was 17 or 18, I realized there was something wrong with this movement. It didn’t explain the whole world. I saw that the world didn’t work not only for people of color, but also for poor white people, political outsiders, even the “1%” as Occupy Wall Street calls them, because they are catching a different kind of hell: the hell that says I can only get through my life on anti-depressants. We’re all in this together.

As I explored the world, I realized that this wrongness is not localized against black people in America, and not in any identifiable group. I am both a victim and a villain in this society. Too often, we focus only on our “victim” roles, ignoring how we are integrally connected to the systems and structures that are destroying the Earth and our human family. We are all perpetrating the global problems, but someday we will transcend these circumstances.

The question of global citizenship has to do with the purpose of humanity on the planet. Every other being on this planet has a purpose. What is ours? Someone said unfortunately that the purpose of humanity is to act as the cancer cells for our world. That’s not pleasant, and we should have a better purpose.

I think that our true purpose has to do with our ability to pay attention and notice things. The things we pay attention to grow. We can exercise reflective consciousness and pay attention on purpose, and by doing that we can strengthen the connection among all beings. In this way, we come closer to what my friend Peter Russell refers to as the “global brain”. Yes, we humans can become the consciousness for Mother Earth – but that means each of us has to become conscious, first.

[For more information on Shariff Abdullah’s quest for a world that works for all, see www.shariff.commonway.org.]

[Original article published in The Global Citizens Initiative ]

[Also posted in LinkedIn]

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