I’ve been silent this week. I didn’t really know what to say, because what can you say when something horrific happens, when many horrific things happen in what feel like rapid succession? What can I say that others aren’t saying more eloquently?
Then today I read about yet another awful event. A woman was killed yesterday, stabbed and shot right on the street. A woman who, at age 41 was an MP for a constituency in Yorkshire. A woman who worked on behalf of others to try to better the world.
She was stabbed for supporting the stance that the UK remain in the EU. That was her crime, wanting to stay part of a larger community.
On Sunday we lost 49 souls for the crime of being gay. They were killed by an arguably unstable man who was ‘sickened’ by seeing same-sex couples. Mind you, he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time seeking out those folks; soaking in his hatred and thickening that particular world view before he acted. He hated gay people so much that he actually went looking for them so that he could hate them some more.
In France, scores lost their lives for the crime of being, well, French. A small (comparatively speaking) group of individuals decided that there was something evil about drinking wine with dinner, going to a concert or a football match, living in a world of light and joy and freedom; so they targeted places that saw such activity, acted as judge, jury and executioner.
The list of such atrocities is long. Far too long to list and far too long for any sort of comfort.
So why write about it here? Why write about such things on a travel blog, for heaven’s sake? Because I believe in the transformative power of travel to make us bigger and better and more tolerant.
Because it seems to me that as the world has gotten smaller, we have gotten smaller too. We have the unprecedented opportunity to visit places that only a few decades ago were considered unreachable. We can get to places in a day that once took us months to reach.
We should, it seems to me, be more tolerant and it seems that we are less.
As the world has gotten smaller, instead of becoming closer and more understanding we are more willing to paint with broad strokes and judge those we see as different as also being wrong.
As the world has gotten smaller, instead of welcoming our differences we seem to want to demonize them. So much so that some of us are willing to kill over them, and kill in large swaths.
As the world has gotten smaller, we seem more prone to look for things to hate in others – religion, political views, sexual orientation, even country of birth.
And as we have gotten smaller, we seem more willing to believe the worst in others, more willing to let our fears rule us, more willing to stay where we are out of the false belief that where we stand is safer than going elsewhere.
It has become us against them, and who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’ is fluid enough so that you can hate someone for bespoke reasons. They wear the wrong clothes, they love the wrong person, they belong to the wrong affiliation; the reasons can be trivial, as long as they are a reason.
We have gotten smaller and the only way I see that will make us grow is to willingly go out in the world. We need – yes, need – to travel. We need to confront the differences between ourselves and other folks and learn to live with them.
Sure, we are going to run into the terminally closed-minded, we will run into those who are willing to blame differences in thought, in religion, in food choice for their misfortunes in life. We will run into willfully and the criminally ignorant. You can’t change the minds of everyone.
But you can make a difference. One person at a time.
Travel has taken me to some interesting places, and not just geographically. It has made me question long-held truths, it has made me rethink entrenched beliefs and it has caused me to question why I think about things the way I do.
Travel has taught me that if I can’t adequately defend my stance on an issue to myself, it might be time to change it. Travel has taught me that there are other ways to live, to love, to think, and to be. Some are better than others; some are markedly worse. And yet, vive la difference.
The best thing we can do in the face of all this hatred and vitriol is to be critical thinkers, critical consumers of the information from all realms – political, religious, social. Getting out in the world is one of the best ways to do that.
Travel can be transformative, and heaven knows we are in dire need of some transformation right about now.