Act like immigrants. In this new world, we are all immigrants.
That's what Thomas Friedman presented in his speech on advancing America's competitiveness to the National Governors' Association in Utah last July, and he expanded on it in his new book, "That Used To Be Us." He said that in this day and age we must all act like immigrants. We are all in search of opportunity in a new and changing world that we do not fully understand.
To act like immigrants means we start to see what he calls the opportunities beyond the obstacles. We are all newcomers to the new economy in the global world. And that may not be easy for many of us to admit — that in the changing world we are still learning. We like to think we know how the system works, that we have mastered it. And that the system we learned is the system that still exists, or that should exist. His suggested approach would imply that it is no longer the system we thought we knew or that we were taught, and it is not coming back.
According to Friedman, there are five pillars that have made America successful in the past and need to be renewed: education; immigration; modernizing our infrastructure; government support for basic research and development; and regulations that safeguard private economic activity and the environment.
He proposes that to the three "Rs" of education we must add "act like an immigrant" in order to become competitive in today's world. Just as immigrants who come to a new land, we must realize that in this world, new to all of us, no one owes us anything and that we must earn everything. We must be open to learning a new system and continuously relearning as we search for opportunity in the new global society.
Immigrants may be seeking political freedom or financial self-sufficiency, but what it comes down to is what we are all seeking — opportunity. It takes courage to pursue that opportunity, whether in one's homeland, a new land or the global economy. But it is that willingness to risk for new opportunity that sets immigrants apart and is essential for each of us to relearn in today's world.
Friedman points out that when we act like an immigrant, we are self-starters not waiting to be told what to do; and we are willing to go the extra mile without being asked just because we see it will improve the product or service we are trying to provide. Immigrants are willing to do non-routine work, to try and to learn something new and do so eagerly. Then they keep learning and offer new ideas on how to do it even better. An immigrant is creative in adapting to a new environment.
Immigrants, he said, are optimistic because that is the only way they will find and make opportunities work. Acting as immigrants in our new economy, we bring to the table our view of the world to share with others.
If we want to start with a fresh view, we might consider Friedman's figurative suggestion to stand on our heads and view our world from the bottom up rather than from the top down. We may find strengths we never recognized before in people throughout the land. Each of us, as immigrants in this changing world, can bring a new appreciation and perspective to renew America.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.