Just hours before I boarded my most recent flight to Europe, I watched in horror as several people were hit by a terrorist car in Barcelona. As the death toll continued to rise, I questioned whether it was wise to take a solo trip to the same general region where these attacks took place. Following the recent Charlottesville protests, I had a moment of pre-travel fear for the first time in a long time.
Listening to the news has recently turned into a cringe-worthy nightmare. It seems like every day, there’s another new story about intolerance, hatred, or prejudice. No matter where in the world you are, America seems to be crumbling to pieces. Some days, I just want to turn it off. When I begin hearing things I don’t like, I’m always tempted to look the other way.
As the beaten-to-death saying goes, ignorance is bliss. But is it?
It All Comes Down to One Thing
We’ve seen lately that psychology is unequivocally stronger than any other force. It’s natural for people to convince themselves that they are right, even when the facts say otherwise. No matter how bad things get, those who support one side of any equation often tend to stick to their laurels, even if they involve racism, bigotry, and denial of facts.
The bottom line is that everyone (yes, including you) wants to feel that they belong to something. To a group. To a movement. People want to feel like what they’re doing means something, and that other people are “on their side.” Sometimes this strong desire to fit in blinds good people to the truth.
No matter what your political, religious, or ethnic affiliation is, everyone can agree (I hope) that violence, discrimination, and injustice should have no place in our world. In an ideal universe, everyone would live in peace and coexistence. And yet, all of these terrible things are plaguing our streets increasingly each day. Why?
The brutal truth: people are scared of unfamiliar things, and of being outdone. In most situations, people don’t want to be “dethroned” from where they are. There’s this stigma about racial and religious minorities because they look like “outsiders,” and societally this hasn’t evolved or changed in a long time.
This outsider mentality has affected me personally. It is so bad that I’ve experienced people telling me to “go home to China.” Umm…what? Actually, I was born in the United States and my family is of Filipino origin. Either way, that’s none of your business.
This blatant racism comes from the “threat” of immigrants trying to “take jobs” and “take over the country.” What happened to celebrating our diversity and multicultural heritage? Have we forgotten that we are a country built at the hands of immigrants, with diversity as one of our central tenets?
How Travel Can Help
When you travel to a foreign place, YOU are in the minority. No matter who you are, when you set foot in someone else’s home turf, the tables are turned. Maybe you don’t speak the language. Or you don’t look the same as the local people. Perhaps you don’t dress or act in the same way as local customs dictate. Traveling helps us learn how it feels to be an outsider, and to rely on the kindness of others for help, no matter what they look like.
I recently read a story about a man who befriended ~200 KKK members and, by forming a strong relationship with them, convinced them to revoke their support for the group. These kinds of conversations can only happen when the barriers between groups are dismantled, and we begin to listen to each other. Travel teaches us how to hear each other out, how to open our eyes, and how to see things we may never have noticed before.
In today’s tumultuous times, we could use a lot more open-mindedness and humility in our world. These things aren’t innate; they must be learned. When we travel, we stop being stuck in our own bubbles and start seeing the world for what it is – a colorful, diverse, and fascinating place. Despite what is happening in the world, I truly believe that people are inherently good, and have just lived under the influence of their own comfortable lives. The only way to make a significant change is to encourage the people around us to break out of the confined space that they live in.
The Bottom Line
No problem was ever solved by looking the other way. We can solve problems by discussing them, listening to both sides, and using empathy to help persuade and influence our fellow humans. When we take the chance to travel and leave our spheres of comfort, we learn that there are real people behind the stereotypes we naturally form. We make connections with people who are vastly different than us.
Travel teaches us how to open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts. Instead of judging someone’s skin color, or gender, or accent, open-minded people judge others by their character. Our country wouldn’t be as interesting, or developed, or diverse without the incredible variety of people that compose its population. A willingness to see through the brainwashed crap on the news and appreciate the contribution every person makes is how we can move forward.
No matter whether it’s to somewhere near or far, travel is one of the few ways people can escape familiarity and learn what it’s like to rely on others to get by. It encourages a more tolerant and open dialogue, and teaches understanding and empathy. For this reason, if you get the chance to persuade someone you love to travel, do so. The more compassion we have in this world, the better.
And with that, despite my earlier fears and reservations, I boarded my flight.
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This is an opinion piece and does not represent the views of anyone other than its author. We encourage open dialogue on our site and would love to hear your feedback, arguments, and comments.