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Friday, July 7, 2017

19th Century Wisdom

The great 19th century American author Mark Twain once wrote:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I believe this statement is just as true now -- perhaps even more so -- than when it was published in 1869, in his book The Innocents Abroad. We now have a president who seems bent on curtailing America's involvement with the rest of the world, and who has already taken steps to limit the programs set in place by his predecessor to increase people-to-people interactions between Americans and Cubans.

I am a well-traveled person. I have visited Africa several times, as well as Europe and the Middle East. I haven't yet made it to Asia or South America, but those places are on my list of places I hope to visit. I learn something and I make friends wherever I go. I have Facebook friends -- people I have met in person -- from Turkey, Russia, Ireland, Kenya, Scotland, England, Germany, Costa Rica, Spain, Chile, Botswana and France.

By visiting these and other countries, I have gained a better understanding of other cultures and people. I am more informed when I see a news story about something that happens in one of those countries. When I heard about another attack on a French police officer on the Champs Elysees, I knew where that is because I walked down that well-known Paris boulevard a month ago. When I heard about a military action against protesters on Istanbul's Taksim Square, I can relate because I was there just two weeks previously. When a story surfaced about a knife attack at Jerusalem's Western Wall, I can see the wall in my mind, as I visited Israel three years ago.

Travel provides a real life education and broadens one's horizons. It has increased my self-confidence and ability to be flexible and to take things as they come. The rest of the world doesn't necessarily do things the way Americans do. Although I usually travel with a group, I also spend time exploring on my own. Yes, a friend and I were lost in Istanbul; neither of us knows a word of Turkish. But we found our way. 

Traveling makes me see more similarities and fewer differences in people regardless of where they live. People care about the same things regardless of where they call home: family, education, food, shelter and safety.  Don't we all want those things, regardless of where we live? 

I travel with a variety of companies and for a variety of reasons: photography, adventure/hiking and just plain tourism. I wish more Americans had the opportunity to travel abroad and experience other cultures. One culture is not 'less than' or better than another. Our American isn't better than the cultures of Peru or Kenya or France. Learning about other countries and cultures can broaden our horizons and make us better informed citizens of the world. And the more we know about other lands, the less reason there is to fear them.