It’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States. I’d like to honor his legacy of courage by discussing the following quote from MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech on August 28, 1963:
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”
As an American who is half-Filipino and the by-product of Texas changing its laws to allow inter-racial marriages between not just whites and blacks but also Asians, I like this quote. But 50 years after MLK’s prolific speech, we as a human race still elect to degrade the value of other human beings not just because of their skin color, but also because of their religion, nationality, economic class, political affiliations, sexual orientation, gender, and a host of other reasons.
I could expound on each of these reasons at length but that would defeat the purpose of my post. However, I think if everyone did a 30 second self-check to see whether or not their thoughts, words, or actions have been condescending to others for any of the previously mentioned reasons, most of us would be lying if we didn’t answer in the affirmative. So let me just be real and say that I have and still struggle with the degradation of other human beings, at least in thought, for those very reasons.
The good news is that my biases against others have dramatically reduced the more I have traveled. Here’s why:
Travel Forces You To Be Around People You Wouldn’t Associate With
When you travel, you will inevitably be forcibly stuck with people who aren’t like you. I didn’t choose seats next to the Iranian who was flying to see his elderly mother or the poor pregnant Hispanic woman who had a lap-child riding on her belly (talk about someone who isn’t afraid to travel with kids!) who were both very polite and a joy to talk to. Nor did I choose the Algerian taxi driver who drove me to Reagan-National Airport at 5 am who spoke so highly of the culinary delights of his country that I now want to visit it.
Travel Forces You To Talk To People Who Have Different Opinions
I’ll never forget my 1 night cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam – it’s one of the top five best things I have ever done in my life. The views were spectacular, the experience itself was exciting, the food was AMAZING, and the people were even better. Two were from Australia, the other two from France, and then there was us. We were all different in viewpoints, religion, and many other ways. But Joy and I were challenged and changed from the experience because in those 40 hours of sailing, we bonded through thread of wanting to know more about each other and our experiences.
Travel May Enable You To Realize That Some of Your Views Are Incorrect
Before I ever met a Muslim, I imagined that they all look like the jihadists that we see on TV. Then I spent two weeks with a guy from Bangladesh who helped me realize that he was just a normal guy and nothing like those “crazy [expletive]” that I had seen on TV. When I visited Malaysia during Ramadan, I realized that practicing Muslims there treat it the way many Westerners treat Christmas – a time to do lots of shopping and enjoy good food with friends/family (after they’ve finished fasting). The first time I visited China, I realized that I couldn’t find a single person (I talked to A LOT of people) that doesn’t like the US – quite contrary to the anti-US sentiments that I see in our news.
The Bottom Line
The purpose of my post isn’t to say that travel will cause your prejudices to vanish and cause you to have a more balanced worldview than everyone else. Like most things, traveling simply shapes your perspective such that you begin to see the world in a different way if you allow yourself to understand the viewpoints of others. However, you won’t learn anything unless you make an effort to talk to people while you’re out on the road. In fact, traveling could make you more racist and shortsighted if you don’t venture out with a teachable frame of mind or continually act like a tourist by only approaching others with a list of demands.
My challenge to you is to try and learn about and from other people as you stop to get gas or grab a quick meal in a small town where it’s clear that “you’re not from ’round here,” share a crowded space with someone who doesn’t look like you, or even when a foreigner chooses to interact with you. If there’s any one thing that I’ve learned from traveling to over 40 countries, it’s that we, humans are all the same.
We all share intrinsic value and the same basic needs. We are simply separated by the things that I previously described because of the walls that we put up. The education and mindset we learn from traveling can break those walls down to where we really can view people according to their character.