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February 25, 2020

How Travel Grows our Empathy.

It’s really easy to become closed-minded.

We naturally surround ourselves with like-minded people. The places we hang out and the activities we do are generally frequented by people in similar situations to us. In this natural state, the world is an echo chamber. We innately create tribes or herds, and inertia keeps us moving in the same direction as those around us and those familiar to us.

The internet, despite all its global connectivity, reinforces this. It is easier now than ever before, to find a community that shares your thoughts, ideologies, or beliefs. It seems there is a subreddit for everything. There are probably 20 Instagram accounts dedicated to every possible interest. And Twitter? Oh, Twitter! Once you find that community, it is so easy to become more and more entrenched in your preexisting way of thinking because everyone around you, everyone whose opinion you value, and everyone else speaking up, is saying the same thing you are.

Living this way creates a way of being that is totally driven by subconscious action. I do this because we do this. I act this way because we act this way. I think this way because we think this way.

After an extremely important and influential challenge occurred to my way of thinking, I began to see that I was living this subconscious life. Since seeing the world this way, I’ve tried my best to rebel, trying to resist the ease of letting the herd think for me.

I’ve all but stopped watching cable television. I haven’t updated my Facebook or viewed my newsfeed in years. I exited all the online communities I was engaged in.

I still found myself surrounded by people like me. People who looked like me, people who talked like me, and people who believed the same things as me.

And then I really started traveling.

Not just a week to the beach. Not just a weekend mountain trip with friends. I stopped staying at the resort or hotel and started opting for Airbnb. I stopped eating at the chain restaurants I recognized and started following my nose to the hole in the wall, family-owned eatery. I started people-watching in the city squares.

Did you know people outside of the South live without air conditioning? Did you know there are tons of apartments in Europe with showers basically the size of my body and zero extra room? Did you know people just hang out in community areas when they’re not working? Did you know the water from the sink isn’t always potable?

I didn’t. Not until I saw it, lived in it.

Did you know that most parts of the world don’t eat all three of their daily meals at their work desk? They sit down for hours, not just husband and wife, but the whole family. Often. Maybe even nightly. They drink, they laugh, they savor the food, the company, and the time given.

Did you know that most people don’t buy a week’s worth of groceries? Edit: Did you know most people don’t have access to a grocery store? Local markets thrive in other parts of the world and for good reason. They transform the simple act of buying your body’s fuel into an opportunity to connect with the community. To build a relationship with the seller.

Did you know there are people who live hours from their family so they can send money because there are no jobs where their family lives? And they do it happily. The fact that there are jobs somewhere—anywhere—that can pay them a wage to support their families is reason for celebration, because they know there are many not so fortunate.

It’s a strange feeling to see, hear, and feel things that aren’t just a reflection of your experiences. But it’s an amazing feeling to start to understand. To experience enough to put yourself in someone else shoes. To understand their perspective.

I didn’t know all these things. My world was so small and my mind was small to match it. But all of that changed when I really started traveling. People aren’t all the same. And being different isn’t bad. I’ve learned so much on my adventures that I’ve brought home with me. And my life is so much better for it. I’ve found empathy, understanding, and inspiration in my travels. And I can’t wait to find more on my next adventures.

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If you’ve experienced some mind-blowing, mind-expanding travels I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments. If you want to expand your mind through travel check out the resources here.

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Stephen Gary  |  2 Followers

author: Stephen Gary

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Editor: Naomi Boshari