Travel Doesn't Make You A Better Person. Empathy Does.
My moment isn't your moment. Your way may not be my way. And, we probably have nothing in 'common.' But travel has taught me none of that matters.
I know I’ll remember waking up on the Champs Elysee for the first time for as long as I’m alive. Hurriedly stumbling out of the tour bus because it was parked illegally. I remember praising God* silently under my breath.
That day, looking up the grandest avenue in the world, in a city I’d dreamed of my entire life, staring at the billowing French flag that hung from the center of the Arc De Triomphe, I said: ‘I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.**'
For I think that life, regardless of what version of it that you believe in, is not for the so called, "hereafter." It’s for realizing, seeing, and experiencing all of our little dreams. Those little post-it notes hung up in our mind full of things that we think would be ‘cool to do’ though we are not quite sure any of them could ever happen.
Fear is our bestie and now we have no chill...
And it’s not surprising. We are trained to be pessimistic about our deepest desires. Despite being a resilient species, we've not quite evolved out of fear. That fear that prompts us to overly rely on what’s "safe" and “practical." Fear that encourages us to ignore our inner voice and carry-on with the status quo. I’m not asserting that this is wrong. But perhaps it has unintended consequences.
We don’t fear being overprotected. But in training ourselves to be apathetic towards our own desires, we fail to see that each of us has a set of dreams, be they big or small. Thus, we fail to recognize the sameness we all share regardless of where we come from. Instead, our focus becomes about getting the ‘work’ done to prolong our safety. We don’t see people for who they are - and could be to us - but as either beneficial or an obstruction to the “task” at hand.
That’s why I believe that travel can help us all further develop our character of empathy. Not patriarchy or tokenism, but the sense to understand others outside of ourselves. But, how?
For The Record, Traveling Doesn't Make Me Special...
Travel can inspire you to look deeper and feel deeper. As I’ve experienced it, there is a kind of awakening to life - humanity, even, if I may be so grand - that you begin to perceive in that moment when you’ve realized one of your desires. In my case, it’s been through seeing the world.
For me, being there on the Champs Elysee, just a little speck of stardust thousands of miles away from home, I felt fully alive, yet, inconsequential at the same time. I was, then, just an object in the way of people who are walking down the street, living their own lives. Someone bumped into me, but I was just an insignificant event in that stranger's day for a brief second. Like an unexpected dip in the pavement when I’m walking in high heels. A moment, soon forgotten.
Some time later, after many more miles of travel, I began to understand the patterns of these moments. Standing there that day, mumbling my little prayer of praise, in awe of the moment… of my accomplishment, I took note of every detail. The architecture, traffic, the shops, the weather. Eventually, I came to accept that all of these things can be incredibly significant and equally as mundane at the same time. To the Parisians, these are just details to the backdrop to their daily lives. To me, it was a dream fulfilled. I realized, and maybe even for a short moment understood, what it might feel like to be someone else, somewhere else. No one special, either. Just a person who grew up somewhere other than me.
Each one of us is carrying a small collection of dormant hopes that we are either doing our best to forget or to make come true. We get caught up in details of how those desires are different in other people while failing to find commonality in our sameness. Though it can be very hard to build those bridges, it’s a worthwhile exercise.
...The People I've Met Traveling, Do.
See, through the years of travel, I’ve connected with the most unlikely people. Many of whom are not just my friends, but also, kindred spirits. We share a sameness in empathy, being drawn to each other for than 'we have so much in common.’ We aren’t so afraid of our differences because we’ve come to learn new ways of “doing” life from seeing people other than ourselves doing it their way. It inspires us to experiment with new systems in our own lives, in hopes of increasing the chances of doing more of those things hung up on our post-it notes. And when you find success - doing it some else's way - it becomes very hard to disregard people. You learn that none of us can do it alone; and more importantly, that you don't have to.
It’s good to know that I’m not alone. And neither are you.