What are you most looking forward to?
I posed this question to Aaron over drinks last Friday. Our conversation had drifted to our upcoming vacation to Ireland and Scotland, two countries that our respective ancestors called home.
Both of us had been dreaming of these visits for years. In fact, when I was an undergraduate student in Arizona, I had pursued a study abroad program where I would have enrolled at the University of Cork in Fall 2005. I could have spent the days reading acclaimed Irish writers, playwrights, and poets or mused over the prevailing political theories that had resulted in Western European’s attempt to paint itself as colonialists with compassion (note: you’re only fooling yourselves, colonizers.)
Alas, I did not make it across the pond that year. Instead, I was elected to serve as the Chairperson for a student-run nonprofit called Camp Wildcat…and I never looked back. To satiate a small taste, I did enroll in an Irish Literature course that fall, falling in love with “Eureka Street” while remaining in a state of confusion over “At-Swim-Two-Birds” (that has remained through present day).
What I was most looking forward to regarding our adventure wasn’t unique to our destinations of choice. Rather, my anticipations and expectations are borne from the very essence of why I desire to travel: it’s about being surrounded by not-yet-known people where I’m given the chance to listen, absorb, and experience a different way of being.
Recently, Shankar Vedantam, host of “The Hidden Brain” podcast, dedicated an episode to research showing how diverse groups of individuals generate more creative solutions. Whether it is a gathering of musicians from different cultural traditions —
or top scientists in the relentless pursuit of a cure, we are able to tap into creativity in unprecedented ways when we sit around a table of people who are not cookie-cutter images of us.
Exposure to other cultures through traveling gives us the glimpse, even briefly, of what exists beyond the walls we have built. We may claim to hail from diverse areas of the country. Yet, when we look at the people who make-up the various constituencies in our lives — co-workers, friends, neighbors, congregations — how often do the people in these groups look/sound/think like us?
It’s not wrong to build relationships with others who do fall more in-step with our way of being. In fact, it’s important for us to find partners and companions who share our identities and experiences, to a point. Where it gets murky is when we only begin to allow individuals into our lives that resemble what we consider our best selves.
Yes, it may feel safer or easier to engage in conversation, as we can say: “I know how you feel” or “I’ve been there.” But, we can be empathetic and understanding to individuals whose life experiences are vastly different than ours as well. It may take more work. We must be willing to abandon our bias and actively listen. We must be able to let go of our singular perspective, which has been shaped by a lot of luck and a little bit of our own accord.
The good news: we don’t have to travel around the world to gain such insights through new connections. Sometimes it is literally us knocking on a neighbors door — you know, the one you’ve maybe thrown a hand up at in acknowledgement as you mutually wheeled your garbage bins to the curb or seen carrying a bag of groceries after a morning of errand-running.
Each day, let’s challenge ourselves to chisel into the walls we’ve built in our own lives. And, when we have the chance to explore, let’s say yes whenever it is possible.
After our “family meeting” on Saturday to walk through our trip logistics (does that really surprise anyone who knows us?), the hunt for the next adventure was on — sketching out itineraries in Colombia, Vietnam, or Peru….for 2019.
Time moves fast. We have to be intentional about creating those opportunities to see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and surround ourselves with difference. Which is why I am most looking forward to being in Ireland and Scotland — to hear fragments of conversation that I may or may not understand; to inhale fragrances from the local flora and fauna; and to arrive with a sense of wonder. I am thrilled by the sense of possibility of what I will learn and who I will meet.
That’s not such a terrible mindset to adopt each day, no matter which side of an ocean we wake up on.