How travel teaches us tolerance and understanding
I have a tattoo of the world on my feet. I got it tattooed in Barcelona inspired by these lyrics from the song Below My Feet by Mumford & Sons, “Keep the earth below my feet. Let me learn from where I have been, keep my eyes to serve and my hands to learn.”
To love and learn with abandon..
I’d just finished several Workaway experiences in France and was on my way to Morocco before doing another Workaway in Ghana. At that point in time, I had been traveling solo for six consecutive months, with another six months or more ahead of me. I was on a journey of discovery with few plans but one purpose: to love and learn with abandon. I honestly had no idea what that might look or feel like, but I knew travel was an important catalyst for understanding myself and the world in a new way.
As I traveled, volunteering through Workaway became a fool-proof method for opening my eyes, changing my perspective, and teaching me tolerance. More than any of my other travel experiences, it was the best tool for me to cultivate relationships. These connections are all rooted in flexibility, teaching me to appreciate and value unique cultures, traditions, and appearances. Through listening, sharing, and working together I became part of mini communities that thrived not just in spite of, but because of their diversity.
“Us” vs. “Them”?
This week, my heart is heavy with longing for this kind of community to become something we can all experience on a daily basis.
Here in the United States, the largest mass shooting in our country’s history has us reeling, questioning our beliefs, values, and the differences that categorize “us” vs “them” . Unfortunately, it’s only the latest headline reminding us of how these differences can be used to take away what we love most. Yet, we’re not alone. The news feeds simply can’t keep up with all of the latest details updating us on the ongoing crises, violence, and tragedies happening in Paris, Beirut, Bolivia, Syria, and every corner of the world imaginable.
I think the question on many of our hearts is, “What can we do?”. How do we respond to the events and circumstances that so often seem out of our control, yet affect us so deeply? How can we transform our helplessness and grief into active compassion?
I think we begin by connecting…
We reach out to one another. We ask questions without thinking we already know the answers. We put ourselves in situations out of our comfort zone and open our hearts to the unknown.
Whether we visit a country and culture completely different than our own, or choose to explore an area of town we usually avoid, we expose our preconceived ideas to the truth and develop a curiosity to know more. We allow statistics and casualties to become names and faces. We build relationships with our neighbors and break down the walls we’ve created separating us from each other. We feel our fear and choose tolerance anyway.
While I was in Ghana, I went hiking up a mountainside overlooking the small village where I volunteered for a small non-profit through Workaway. I was with two other volunteers and a friend that we’d made from the local school who was our guide. As we skipped down the overgrown trail laughing and smiling in the hot African sun, I thought of how beautiful and special it was that we were all there together… We were all singing and playing and sharing that spectacular moment. I thought of how just a few decades ago, Americans and Germans were fighting each other in a great world war. I thought of how a few centuries ago, Ghana was one of the largest slave traders to the Americas. I thought of how history doesn’t have to be repeated because now we know better.
What if we were all the same…?
We know how to celebrate our differences instead of destroying them and each other. We know that the more we know, the more we don’t know and that’s okay. We know that we are part of a global community, part of a human family. And there’s nowhere else for us to go. So we might as well get along and enjoy all of the variety. Can you imagine if we were all the same? How boring and monotonous life would become!
So we travel. We travel because it teaches us tolerance. And I promise, we don’t have to go very far to learn its important lesson. All we need are “eyes to serve and and hands to learn” with a willingness to open our hearts. <3