We all need to get out more

America is currently a land of fighting. We Americans love to fight over practically everything. Doesn’t if its small or large, important or not. We put a lot of effort and energy into fighting over all sorts of things. It’s just that most of these fights are short attention span fights. Some of the bigger, more important fights though are long term – like multi-generational fights that seem to have no end in sight. 

I think America and Americans would be better off if we all traveled more. That’s not a cure all of course. And when I travel, it’s bigger than hopping on a plan and going to some far-off place. Travel doesn’t have to be far or long. In fact, travel doesn’t have to involve physical movement at all. 

I think so much of our fights are really just ourselves projecting stuff about ourselves that we don’t like onto other people and groups of people. 

So, what do I mean by travel? Well, I will use my most recent excursion to Guatemala as a metaphor. 

I just returned from a week-long trip there for a board strategy retreat for Tree 4 Hope, which is a great organization you can read about through this link. (And please feel free to support the organization as it impacts lives in many ways. Or you can support the organization by buying coffee through Chica Bean coffee, a woman-run coffee roaster in Guatemala that partners with Hope Academy Guatemala and works with the girls who do an internship with the company where they develop their own blend. You can buy coffee through this link. Or go to their website and reference Tree 4 Hope in the purchase where the academy will receive a percentage of the sale. Thank you for your support either way!)

Back to travel. When I go to Guatemala, English is not the primary language spoken there, it is Spanish. US dollars are not the currency, it is Guatemalan Quetzals. Like most of the world, Guatemala uses Celsius for temperature. There are other differences too – like understandings of time, when sunset and sunrise happen, products in stores, transportation customs, and so much more. In each of these instances, I have a choice – I can go around expecting everyone to accommodate me, or I can attempt to communicate with and understand others in a way that they know or in a third way. Which do you think if more effective? The answer is obvious – When I do, I try to communicate in Spanish. I learn the exchange rate. I learn the culture and customs, so I know what’s happening. I have traveled to someone else’s home – therefore I am a guest. 

Imagine if we saw the person in front of us the same way – they have a language (maybe even the same language, but everyone has different ways of communicating and defining words), they have a currency of what is valuable. They have customs and values and expectations. Should we impose and force someone to know ours (even to the point of assuming that we are the standard by which everything gets measured)? Or do we make an attempt to learn and understand where someone else is, like we are visiting a foreign land? When we encounter other people, we are stepping into their land, their language, their culture, their customs. We are visitors. 

One of the other things about travel is seeing poverty. The easy form of poverty is economic poverty. But that’s not the only form of poverty that exists. In fact, some of the wealthiest people on the planet are stuck in forms of poverty, even while being economically wealthy. I would argue that we are all in some form of poverty – it’s just a matter of what. 

You see there is economic poverty, but there is also poverty that comes in the form of ethical poverty – those that lack ethics and the resources to understand or practice ethical interactions and ways of being. There’s intellectual poverty. There’s emotional, spiritual, and physical poverty. There is empathy poverty and moral poverty. There is ideological and political poverty. There is communication poverty and listening poverty. And so many other ways in which a person, a community, or a society, or nation can be gripped in poverty. 

America is a wealthy country – the wealthiest in human history, but there is plenty of poverty. Not just economic poverty. I don’t think economic poverty will go away until some of the other forms of poverty are dealt with. 

And just as the nation is caught in poverty and can’t free itself, or spend its way out, the same is true for each of us. What poverty are caught in? Maybe you don’t like to think about that. It’s unpleasant to think of yourself as being caught in poverty isn’t it? When we think we aren’t in poverty in some way, we get to be those folks who go to a foreign land and see the standard of living as less than what we are used to, and we have pity for those people. Why? Mostly because we think we are better than someone else. But the reality is that we are all in some form of poverty. Economic is just one form of it. The easiest to see. And in many ways the easiest to deal with if we really wanted to. But yet it persists, doesn’t it? 

When we travel, it offers us an opportunity to see ourselves and the poverty that we are trapped in. A place or person or group may be economically poor, but rich in many other ways. Are our eyes clear enough to see that their standard of living in these other ways are much higher than our own? Or do we ignore that because it is inconvenient? Would we rather just explain it away? 

I’m not rich by any means, but I have enough resources to travel from time to time – which means I’m doing pretty good compared to a large percentage of humanity on this planet. But I am caught in a poverty and I see it clearly when I travel to places like Guatemala. They may not have the economic resources, but what they are rich is in a slower pace that is healthier and a friendliness that sees other people and welcomes the stranger easily. 

We’d definitely be better off as a nation if we traveled more – either literally or just with an attitude of travel when we meet someone else regardless of where we are. We’d be better off if we attempted to communicate in a way that was not about winning and more about understanding. We’d be better off if we could the poverty we are caught in along with the poverty of the other person and we sought to accompany one another rather than win against them or change them to be like ourselves. Yes, we’d be better off individually, but also as a community, a society, and a nation. 

Traveling changes you. And it doesn’t have to stop or just be about getting on a plane or a car. Traveling doesn’t even have to be about going anywhere. It’s an inner attitude of curiosity, of humility, of faith. Traveling is very human because we see our limitations and those around us – not use against others, but to connect with others. 

I don’t pretend that an attitude of travel would solve all problems (we are human after all). It wouldn’t. But I think it would help us from fighting so much – especially about the things that just don’t matter. Even our fighting might be improved – more civil, more about engagement rather than winning. More about seeing the humanity in others and trying to understand. 

Travel. Go somewhere. Be a visitor. See each person you meet as an engagement in a foreign land where you have to figure out how to communicate effectively and where your eyes are open to your own limitations. 


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