And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide,
And the oceans are wide.
It’s a small, small world”
- R. Sherman
Everyone should travel to another country at least once in their lives. More, if they’re lucky.
I know that many cannot realistically do this. Financial reasons, family obligations, schedule restrictions, health considerations. For some, these limitations are insurmountable.
For those where such limitations don’t exist: travel. Go visit another country. Learn enough of their language to say, “hello,” “good bye,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “check please,” and “where is the bathroom?” Read about their customs, traditions, and beliefs. Strive to understand them, even for a little.
To be fair, simply flying to another country and visiting their main tourist attractions isn’t enough. But for many, it is perhaps better than nothing. For a while, you are enveloped in another world. Even that taste can help.
For a true learning experience, you have to talk to the locals. Walk off the beaten path. Eat something different. Observe the general populace. Behave as they do, within bounds. And above all, be respectful of their culture.
The benefit of traveling is the opening of your mind. You learn how another whole society lives, day in and day out. It helps you to understand, if even just for a little while, how a fellow human being lives. The world shrinks, if even just for a little bit. Prejudices shrivel. Preconceptions wither. Generalizations splinter.
The more you travel, the more your mind opens, and the more the world shrinks.
I remember a time when taking the train out of my home town was scary. My little suburban town was all I knew. Taking the train into the city was a huge event. It meant going someplace far, foreign, even frightening.
But once I did it, the city became part of my world. What I knew expanded while the world shrunk. No longer was it someplace far and foreign. It was just another place to go.
I remember a time when taking the plane from the East Coast to the West Coast was disconcerting. My coast was all I knew. The other coast was practically a foreign country with a different temperament, disposition, and even attitude.
Then I moved there. Both coasts became my world. Temperaments, dispositions, and attitudes were more similar than I thought. The world shrunk a little more.
I remember a time when another country was totally alien. My country was all I knew. Other countries weren’t just foreign; they were so different that it was easy to generalize their populations as charactertures of their cultures.
Then I visited one country. And another. And another. The diversity of the people in each was just as diverse as a New Yorker is from a Texan and an Alaskan and a Californian and a Hawaiian. There are more similarities than there are differences. The world shrunk even more.
Every country has its poor and homeless, its rich and aristocracy, its kind-hearted and selfless, its fools and racists, its leaders and managers, its good parents and bad parents, and its bad drivers.
Cultures and traditions may differ. Foods and languages may differ. Religions and skin color may differ. But everyone feels happy, feels sad, and gets pissed off like everyone else. While there may be cultural differences that underlie a group of people, exceptions abound.
Prejudice may have an evolutionary benefit, but it can also be harmful to you and other people. It can close your mind to opportunities. Traveling the world shatters many of those misconceptions. Or at least, it makes you think twice before categorizing someone or some idea.
So go out and travel the world. Watch it shrink. Experience and understand another culture. Eat different foods, speak foreign languages, and talk to someone new. Do that, and the world is yours.