Thank you Mark Twain: On Liberty & Why Travel Matters for Americans
Does travel experience necessarily influence their political beliefs or world view? I’m wondering about this lately, in the wake of recent world events. Mark Twain thought so, and I have to agree with him.
Samuel Clemens, known better by his pen name of Mark Twain, wrote this sentiment in The Innocents Abroad, and it has resonated with travelers ever since:
I’m loathe to start out a blog post with such a challenging question because people seem so divided in their politics these days, and I hate to add one more potentially divisive factor into the mix. Wouldn’t it be something if politicians and the media were as adept at uniting us by our commonalities as they are at dividing us through our differences? We’d live in a much different world, don’t you think?
But with the recent terror attacks in Paris and Beirut which killed hundreds of people, the hatred and bigoted vitriol is once again rising to the forefront in media and social media in particular, just as it did after September 11th, and I’m becoming frustrated by the fear and ignorance I'm seeing with people so quick to jump on the bandwagon.
So this is what I woke up to yesterday morning on social media……
Having grown up near New York City, I consider the Big Apple to be ‘my city’ and I remember the events of September 11th very well. It was a defining moment in our nation’s history just as any act of war was to previous generations. The devastation and anger that one feels at the violation of their home and country, the loss of loved ones, and the audacity of fanatical terrorists is indescribable, and emotions run a wide gamut in the days and months following. I can’t even imagine the level of destruction and oppression that so many people in war torn countries of the world live with on a daily basis.
But after the recent attacks and the ones on 9/11, when people are angry and looking for someone to blame, it's our reaction that speaks to the heart of who we are as people. And right now, the U.S. could use a broader world view and less buckaroo bravado. This is a critical time when it's easy to forget reason and lose sight of the compassionate people we claim to be. You remember the Statue of Liberty, right? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free...” And yet, the gang-mentality of social media and some mainstream media quickly lures the worst out of some and reflects poorly on all of us. It’s at this moment where the true power of travel can be seen.
As I’ve written before, I consider traveling one of life’s greatest opportunities, and have even joked that I believe travel should be mandatory among young teens in any country but especially the USA. Travel doesn't need to be expensive, or even outside your own country. Most any travel is a good thing so long as it’s not destructive to the people or places one visits or its natural resources. Expanding your view beyond your own little corner of the world is what it's all about. It offers enormous benefit to everyone and more people need it.
This is not meant as an indictment to those who have yet to travel or are just starting out. A mere curiosity of the world and the willingness to be open to traveling is indeed a great sign that you will travel, your curiosity will demand it. And I applaud that. But there are those who have no desire to see or learn about other parts of their own country or the world at large and proudly wear their ignorance as a merit badge of isolationism. They're not only missing out on something big, but in this day and age, I question their ability to exist in this rapidly changing global world of ours.
Why is travel so important and beneficial? Because travel broadens one's horizons and view of humanity. It helps you understand your place in the world we live in. Values are born through travel experiences and exposure to new people, foreign cultures, traditions, and foods, and the world you can’t see on TV or the internet. We develop opinions based on our new experiences, and slowly meld them with (or relinquish altogether) those taught to us through parental values, the media or other outside influences. When you come down to it, having opinions based on anything other than your own experience is the very definition of prejudice. Experience is the enemy of ignorance and xenophobia.
It's also scientific fact that those who travel are more trusting. Researchers have evaluated levels of trust among those who've traveled far and wide, experiencing cultures entirely different from their own, and those who did not. They found the more countries one visits, the more trusting he or she will be of others. Rick Steves has an interesting blog post called "The Passport Map: Who Travels Among Americans" that illustrates the U.S. states with the greatest passport ownership among its residents:
In the face of terror attacks or trying to understand the political maneuverings of our governments, those who have traveled have a distinct advantage over those who have not - they're often better at seeing past the agendas set by our media and politicians to the humanity underneath simply because they've experienced a place or culture firsthand. A mind not broadened by travel stays narrow, and is more susceptable to marketing and propaganda from outside sources whose motives may not always be in our best interest.
Now more than ever, the importance of travel and exposure to the world can't be overemphasized or encouraged enough. Our citizens, future leaders, and politicians must be well versed and active participants in the global community. For those of you still waiting to take the plunge and discover a little more of the world - now's the time to go! See the world until you can't see anymore.
Travel. For you, and for the future of humanity.