From the Outside Looking in. A Case for Travel.
The old adage, "you can't see the forest for the trees", comes to mind today. Being too close to anything for an extended period of time can cause us to lose perspective. Whether its a problem at home or work, taking the time to step back and take a breath or search for another perspective can be valuable in gaining a broader understanding. Sometimes it can even help to bring in someone removed from the situation as they might ask a question or make a suggestion that sends you in an entirely new direction.
The wonder of travel is often spoken of in terms of what you find in an unfamiliar place. It can be nuanced or run the gambit: new foods, fashion, holidays, tradition, climate and more. Few things can bring you into the present moment more than travel as you work to make sense of things that are different from a typical day in the life you lead.
In addition to passport stamps, keepsakes, photos and new friends, self-discovery is discussed less often. Much like being too close to the forest for the trees, travel helps us reflect on our own lives by temporarily removing ourselves from them. As Andrew Solomon has written, "Familiar landscapes cushion you from self-knowledge because the border between who you are and where you are is porous. But in a strange place, you become more fully evident: who you truly are is what persists at home and abroad." There are parts of who we are that are fundamental to our being and other parts that are shaped by our environment. We can see these lines more clearly when we step away from our home and established lives. It undoubtedly shapes us in ways that are thrilling and uncomfortable.
The same can be said for the place we call home. As the writer Pico Iyer said, "I often tell my friends that one of the great beauties of travel is better appreciating home. As soon as I leave this country, I see America as it is constructed in the eyes of people around the world, generally very admiring, and it wakes me up to some of the beauties of this country I forget or take for granted when I'm in the midst of it."
In an era when tensions are high and reflexes are to defend and lash out, it may do us all good to step away from the environment we are in to reflect on what we hold dear and what we might be willing to part once we take it in from another angle. While I was living in Kuala Lumpur, the days after Osama Bin Laden was killed remain clear in my mind. As images streamed in from the US of zealous crowds celebrating, someone remarked to me it unsettled him to see people rejoicing after the death of someone. It was an interesting conversation for sure and at the same time want to state this person was in no way defending the lives Bin Laden and Al Qaeda operatives had taken, but rather just stating the public reaction seemed over-the-top to him. Having the opportunity to talk about this major world event while outside the US was certainly an interesting time for me in seeing how others view our country.
Ultimately travel stands to reinforce parts of your worldview and change aspects of it. "Brave" is a word that our country proudly uses in its anthem. The question is, are we brave enough to place our beliefs out in front of us where they may be challenged and changed or do we instead hold them close and refuse to be influenced? Which sounds like the act of courage to you?
Go Forth Boldly
"Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you... You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind."