On Travel & Perspective

June 23, 2013 in Education, Inspiration

“That’s one of the things I envy about your travel…besides the awesome sightseeing…

The ability to stand outside of your culture and see it how others view us.

I get a tiny window of it by being a home schooler, and opting out of the plugged in, consumerist mentality, but you get a much bigger picture.”

I was chatting with my friend, and her comment washed over me, my knee jerk reaction:

Yeah, I like that too… except that it means that I can’t really see anything from “our” perspective any more… things get muddled and it’s hard to think simply about anything

And then, I found myself awake in the night, as I so often do, peeling away the layers of her words and thinking about my response, and how so often the surface truths turn out to be miles deep.

Her words remind me of why we travel.

It isn’t really about seeing new things, or checking monuments and museums off of the list, although those things are cool too.

The whole reason we travel is to educate our children, and ourselves, which is accomplished by spending enough time in different places and worlds, to begin to see through other eyes. We see “them” differently as a result. We also see “us” differently.

What kept me up in the night though, was my response to her… and how true that is, and how much I worry about the implications of that at 2 a.m. when my brain has nothing better to do than spin. 

I grew up in Canada, with a side dish of Florida and a couple of Mexican winters for garnish. Fifteen years in the USA followed by a parade of countries across five continents have left us with a nebulous concept of “home” and more than a couple of definitions of our local community.

The result? I’m incapable of feeling completely at home in any one place, because I’m continually aware of “elsewhere” both people and place. I’m incapable of seeing it “our way” because in my mind exist the ghosts of faraway friends whose lives have quietly demonstrated the validity of “their way.”

I’m a coffee, olive oil, chocolate, rice, clothing, and, in general, fair trade snob because I can’t walk into a store alone. Ghosts follow me everywhere. They line the aisles, shoulder to shoulder in silence, watching my every move, the $5 T-shirt is dripping in invisible blood. To buy the cheap, industrially produced thing is to commit my friends to slavery, for my benefit. And so I am on a constant quest to avoid that, for them, and for me.

I can’t stand behind the flag in unqualified patriotism. I just can’t. Not when I’ve been abroad for our elections and watched people beg and pray for one outcome over another because of how it affects the whole world. It’s hard to buy into the current military ventures and their associated political arguments when we’ve cried in the highlands of Guatemala, shook our heads at the dichotomies in Vietnam, and have lived with folks on “the other side” of more than a couple of the American battle lines.

I find I’m always the one defending the Muslims. I’m not pro-Muslim, not by a long shot. It’s a long standing joke that I’d make a terrible Muslim on lots of levels, but it seems, lately, like I’m the one defending them, in every group I’m in. Why? Because I’ve lived with them for much of the past few years and it’s pretty hard to see people as propaganda posters when they’re your neighbours. I’d hate to have my beliefs defined and pronounced upon as “fact” by people who had never met me, or anyone like me. It bugs me when “we” do that to “them.” And so I point out the obvious: that Muslims do not support child sexual abuse, they are not, as a group, interested in “our” demise, and that they are not behind the homosexual agenda. Yes. Seriously.

I really cannot listen to one more whine about how expensive things are in the USA, or how much we’re suffering from the economic downturn. There are people suffering, yes. We have friends who have been out of work for a year or more, multiple friends, in fact. Interestingly enough, they’re the first ones who will tell you how much they have, and how thankful they are for it. You want to talk expensive? Buy shoes in Australia or New Zealand and then we’ll chat. We have friends here who pay for their entire trip to the USA in the difference of shoe prices. Yes, there are places much cheaper to live than the USA, but there are no places in the first world that are cheaper, I promise you that. (Correct me if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to visit!) Living in America is like being born with a silver spoon in your mouth. There is so much abundance that even what feels like a lack of abundance, is ridiculous wealth on the global scale.

And please don’t rant to me about the lack of freedoms in America, or email me asking where I suggest you move now that the government is trying to take your guns, your freedom to parent as you see fit, educate your kids yourself, and trying to foist the “gay agenda” off on the entire country. I have no patience for this. None. Where can you move that will let you own a ridiculous range of guns, build a compound for your family, brainwash your kids any way you want and remain bigoted against a wide swath of folks different from you, while at the same time having clean public bathrooms and on-time public transportation and the lifestyle you’re accustomed to? Well… America comes to mind.

Does it feel like I’m beating up on America a little bit? Well, I’m not. Being born in America is a gift, an absolute slice of privileged cake drenched in whipped cream, with a cherry on top. An American passport is a golden ticket. I love America, in all of it’s sticky, argumentative, sometimes bigoted, often short sighted, well intentioned, loud mouthed, glory. I love that everything is super-sized and we have more choices than sense in every single venue. All of the things I mock within those spheres are born of opportunity, ingenuity, and determination. I love that about America. It’s a hard place to live, full time, once you’ve been elsewhere, but it’s a fantastic place to be from.

My friend is right, of course.

The freedom to be able to stand outside of “our” culture and see “us” from another perspective is a gift. I try not to take the for granted, even then I’m frustrated beyond words in a given moment. Perspective is a beautiful thing, even when it’s a painful thing. I have to remember to be grateful for it, every day. I have to remember that the inability to see things as black and white or “simple” isn’t a curse, it’s the very gift that we’re trying so hard to give our kids, and as many others as we can reach, because it’s that gift that might stand a chance, however slim, at building bridges between “us” and “them” in generations to come.