My wife and I just returned from two weeks in Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. It was an incredible trip; a trip of a lifetime. Every day I found myself overwhelmed by either the art, the architecture, nature, the people, food, or all five! Each day involved some ‘assault’ on the senses, an ‘awakening’ to things that I had not seen or experienced. The trip was stunning and fulfilling, and, it expanded my view of the world. It would be easy to have the sensory overload be my total experience, but expanding how I see the world was equally meaningful.
I grew up in the United States, traveling primarily in the US and Canada – with a few notable trips to Mexico. I remember vividly the first time I traveled to Mexico City as a junior in college in 1972. Mexico introduced me to being a ‘stranger’ in a strange land – where I was challenged by not knowing the language, customs, cultural mores, and what it meant to be from that country. It taught me respect for a culture and people that were not my own.
I smile when I think of my daughters’ trips in their 20’s and 30’s, and the impact those trips had on their views of the world. Collectively, they have been to England, France, Spain, Australia, Nepal, Thailand, Africa, and Portugal…so far. Their travels represent a very diverse collection of countries and experiences. They, too, have been impacted by being a ‘stranger’ in a strange land, and how it shaped their view of the world, and of home.
As I reflect on my recent trip, I appreciate that my world now looks different – it contains the view of different geography, a sampling of different food, different architecture, and different people with different ways of seeing and doing things. Perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing Slovenia and Croatia up close, and no longer through the lens of when they were Yugoslavia over 26 years ago. They are quite a bit more advanced than I thought; mostly because I didn’t know. While not surprising, it was interesting to see that because I didn’t have a reason to change how I thought about a people or a region, I didn’t. My understanding of Slovenia and Croatia were buried back in the 70’s; my thoughts hadn’t changed because I had no reason to change them.
Why is this important? For me, it is important because how I see the “world” shapes how I interact in the world. Attitudes and biases that I hold remain in their current state until they are challenged and changed. My experience is that the more I know and embrace the diversity of the world, be it the geography, climate, people, food, customs or values, the greater the opportunity for me to be more respectful of those differences; understanding the value of what other parts of the world and other people bring to the richness of my world. This story is about how travel impacted my world view. Our ‘world’ in its broadest sense, however, is about how we come to expand our thinking and acting.
When our view of the world is ‘smaller’ it is easier to believe that our view is how the world is and how others are. Even if ‘intellectually’ we know that is not the case, if we have not had the chance to be ‘moved’ by diversity in a way that helps us be more accepting, more respectful, then, I believe, it is easier for us to be more prejudice; sometimes acting on those prejudices in horrific ways.
When I experience the tragic violence that we’ve witnessed over a number of years, I wonder how much of that is in some way because the perpetrator/s view of the world was smaller? Clearly, there can be a multitude of things at play, including mental health. But, at their core, is there a genesis that involves how the perpetrator’s world view was formed, and its size at the time of the atrocities? Is expanding one’s world view a key in helping us as a society become more tolerant? Could it be that simple? Is part of the reason our government operates as it does is because those governing do not have a view of the world that allows them to act from a larger space, a more productive place?
I will continue to hold these questions. I do know that when I experience things that broaden my view I am more tolerant, inquisitive, and respectful of others. I would like to think that improves how I interact in the world and the footprint I leave.
How would increasing the capacity of how you see the world help you in your life and in your work?
To a better you…