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Wanderlust vs. locallust

Seeing, experiencing and gaining a glimpse into other parts of this country and world is something I have enjoyed, thought a lot about and desired in for much of the past decade. While I think this curiosity has bene a part of me for a long time, experiencing it in a protracted way when living abroad certainly changed me. I realized there was so much about the world I did not understand. People in ways seemed so similar and yet a world apart based on the socioeconomic and cultural circumstances they were raised in. 

This was beautifully furthered through the writings and travel of Anthony Bourdain. Witnessing him sitting down with people in various corners of the Earth to hear about what life was like there. Both of these things and more created a narrative for me that the more experiences I collected the better I would be. When I think about this through the lens of experiences, I can then see how this is a desire I have carried easily since my early twenties. 

For a while though, something has not quite wholly true about this belief as more being better but have struggled to to put it in specific terms. What seemed to stand out is if we spend a majority of our time moving from one thing to another at what point does that broadening come at the expense of depth? Being humbled by hallowed ground, taking in magnificent scenery, eating food that nourishes the soul and laughing with someone for a walk of life different from yours are all so valuable. But if we relentlessly are seeking the new, where are our roots growing deep? Do we have people we care deeply about in our life and do we spend time with them? Is the hobby that we love forsaken because we’re simply too busy to fit it in? Is the cause that matters to us sidelined for next year? Part of a TED talk I heard years ago comes to mind, which said what it means to be committed to a thing is to acknowledge that our time with that thing comes at the expense of another. Time we spend traveling is time we do not spend in the place we call home? Time we spend at the office is time we do not spend with family, friends or your children. Practically speaking, the writer was not saying abandon all things of lesser import for one but to acknowledge that for example, if we’re at the office for long hours that is time we’re not with our child. 

I have been making my way through The Second Mountain by David Brooks and it is full of things worth contemplating. Rather than attempt to give you a synopsis, I’ll let the author do so

At one point Brooks talks about traits he sees as common in second mountain people. In it he drew out something that I have wrestled with for a couple days and relates to being out in the world gathering new experiences. He said, “They are somewheres rather than anywheres. Localists, not cosmopolitans. They are attached to a particular place. A spot of ground.” Since cosmopolitan is a big word that I could only have half described prior to looking up, here is the definition

  • Having wide international sophistication

  • Composed of persons, constituents, or elements from all or many parts of the world

  • Having worldwide rather than limited or provincial scope or bearing

What makes sense about this in a way to me is, if we are always on the move, or too busy meeting new people and trying new things, can we really make a deep and lasting impact to a people or place? This of course in a way go against part of what I’ve long thought, "being more global is something I should always be striving for". While I do not believe Brooks’ finding needs to be an absolute, it has left me thinking about going deeper rather than scaling and broadening. 

This morning I was re-listening to an interview with positive psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He said that people on the left tend to value people in places that are not their own while conservatives tend to place a higher value on people in their own community and national border. 

“We have a survey at where we ask, 'How much do you care about or think about or value people in your community, people in your country, people in the world at large?' So conservatives value people in their nation and in their community much more than people in the world at large. And you might say, OK, well, that’s parochial. But what do liberals do? Liberals on our survey actually say they value people in the world at large more than people in their own country, more than people in their community. So liberals are so universalist, they often don’t really pay much attention to their own groups. As my mother said about my grandfather, who was a labor organizer, 'He loved humanity so much that he didn’t really have much time to care for his family.'”

As I contemplate Brooks, Bourdain and Haidt what I was left wondering about my wanderlust, experience-heavy tendencies is have I been more interested to get to know people in strange places more than in my own community? Am I more concerned with the plight of people in other places and overlook people near me? If I am concerned about the plight of those near me, is that concern expressed in action or words? Am I more concerned with building community online than offline? 

I cannot say I have arrived at an answer yet but I am interested to continue pondering this.

Happy Saturday. 

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