You're currently looking something right in the face, but you're not seeing it. You swivel around, squint your eyes a little bit, but still you really don't see anything in front of you. You're confused. Stop there and take a step back. Adjust your glasses frame a bit, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open them again. Are you seeing it now? Just give it a minute, maybe your eyes are still adjusting to the light. Yeah... there it is. There you go. Wait for it.
Welcome, my friend, to the world.
You scratch your head and raise an eyebrow. Maybe I should stop reading this now, you say to yourself, thinking this is going to be another one of those inspirational "you need to get out and see the world" talks. While I adore those (however clichéd they may be), this is not one of them. And for those of you who do decide to keep reading, you will see why.
A Thought Experiment
You're in a room full of hundreds of people, the same age and education level, even the same suit, all waiting to interview for the same exact job, which only has one opening available. You need to make sure that you stand out, that you can show the employer something that will make you unique, without making a fool of yourself.
Alternatively, you are on a first date with the person of your dreams at a restaurant, and your conversation is beginning to dwindle. You make small talk, compliment their outfit, and even make a comment about how delicious the food is. Eventually, though, you don't have any more small talk to make. What do you talk about in order to ensure there's a second date?
Three friends are in your apartment arguing with you about politics. Each one has his or her own opinion that they won't alter. One is so steaming mad that he's furiously texting on his phone. Another is raising her voice more every minute. Your job is to calm the waters, to ease the tension, and to help everyone "agree to disagree."
What would you do in these situations? How do you make sure that the odds are ever in your favor?
Open Your Eyes
People who have traveled far and wide will tell you that one thing they've learned during their adventures is the ability to dig deeper and explore further. Deep, late night conversations in hostel common rooms have taught them how to stay attentive. Getting lost without a map has taught them how to ask for help. Getting stuck at airports because of stormy weather has left them stranded, forcing them to make the best out of a situation. Having less-than-polite roommates has built their tolerance and their patience. Exploring city slums and volunteering for months on end has taught them that stereotypes are quite often inaccurate, and that people are all human. The folds of human nature and the tests of human skill unravel through the traveler's experience.
Note that I mentioned earlier that this article is not going to be one of those "get off your butt and travel" articles. It's not. But it is a call to action. It's a call to you, the human of the world, to open your eyes and see a horizon just a little bit wider than before.
In the midst of a world of political unrest, people have become so tunnel-minded these days. After having moved from the United States, in its government shutdown, to Brazil, in an ongoing fight between the people and the government, I have learned that the fighting, the social media, and the unrest are spinning into what looks like a never-ending, downward spiral. Everyone is focused on themselves, their own issues, and how to get out of the messes that political systems have created.
If everyone just started at the beginning of this article, took a deep breath, and opened their eyes to the bigger worldview, we may see things in a different light that was unapparent initially. If we took the opportunity to communicate with each other, to associate with other people in the world, to learn about other cultures and to use best practices within our own lives and our own worlds, the world would see itself with a new pair of eyes.
The traveler perspective is one that can truly bridge the gap. We want employees, significant others, teachers, and friends who know how to deal with other people and can understand the difference between what a situation looks like (eg. getting lost without a map) and what it really is (eg. finding an antique shop that sells vinyls of your favorite artist). When you abandon your tunnel vision for a perspective much wider, you learn that the realities of the world are completely in the hands of today. You discover that travel has a lot more to offer than just a trip to the beach or an overstuffed suitcase. If there are more people who experience the world, near or far, with open eyes, then there will be more tolerant, compassionate, and loving people at large. Aren't these more like the people we want filling the leadership positions in our world - those who are proactive, empathetic, and open-minded? I would say so.
So, going back to that interview, or that date, or that argument: think the way a traveler would. Listen to what the other person is saying. Take every opportunity for what it is, not just what it looks like. Be inquisitive and curious. Ask questions. Understand that the world is infinitely more complex than anyone knows. Admit your faults and express your strengths. Because everyone in this world has a story worth telling, and everyone has the opportunity to make a change. At the end of the day, the first step to making a change, no matter how minuscule, is to take a step back, take a deep breath, and open your eyes.
Agree? Disagree? Have I oversimplified the issues? Is there a better solution? Leave me a comment and let's discuss.