Feb 112016
 

Travel and Prejudice

Is travel really fatal to prejudice?

There is a Mark Twain quote often recited by people who love to travel.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

I’ve come across this quote several times recently and have been pondering how true it is or isn’t.

Prejudice is often the result of fear raised by the unfamiliar. When we travel, we get to know the unfamiliar and it becomes less strange and fearsome. We meet people we thought were vastly different than us and discover how much common ground we have, how alike we are in our humanity.

The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends. ∼Shirley MacLaine

We also encounter different ways of living and doing things. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. And we learn there is more than one way to see and be in this world. To the extent this removes fear and opens our hearts and minds, travel can indeed be fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

However, I don’t think this is always the case. People can travel the world and marvel at natural and man-made wonders and still see only what they want or expect to see. It is possible to travel widely and not look beyond the tourist attractions into the hearts and lives of the lands and their peoples. We can carry our preconceptions with us and shape what we see to fit that view.

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home. ∼James Michener

I definitely disagree with the last part of Mark Twain’s statement about being unable to acquire board, charitable views by staying in one corner of the earth. While the physical world of those who choose not to travel or are unable to travel because of health, financial considerations, or responsibilities may be narrower than those who do travel, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a narrow mind. One can still view the world with openness, compassion, and acceptance. And what on the outside may seem like narrow confines may be a broad, wide world, especially for those who read and travel to faraway places and distant times and into the hearts of thousands of souls through the pages of a book.

Mark Twain lived in a world without Internet. Whether his statement is more or less relevant in that world I cannot say. The Internet opens up the world to us and allows us to find out about places, people, and ideas without leaving our corner, but it also allows us to spread our fears and fallacies. It allows us to stay connected to home when we travel. While this can be comforting and grounding, I wonder if it also prevents us from fulling experiencing the lands and cultures we travel to.

I think it all comes down, once again, to attitude. And that may be where the connection with travel comes in. People with a curiosity about the world and interest in its people and cultures may be more likely to travel. Sometimes a travel experience can spawn that interest and lead to a desire for further travel.

Travel is more than seeing the sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and personal, in the ideas of living. ∼Mary Ritter Beard

I don’t want to imply there is anything wrong with simply seeing the sights. There are many ways of traveling and seeing the world, each with its own merit and value. Travel does have the potential to open our minds and reduce prejudice. But I don’t think that happens in all cases. And I don’t think one has to travel to develop an open mind. What do you think?

  14 Responses to “Travel and Prejudice”

  1. Loved this article Donna. Like you, I enjoy seeing the sights but really work hard at finding local places to dine and hang out so I get get a sense of the culture. I’ll never forget being in Iceland and seeking a local pub for that very purpose! However, the first people that approached me were American! I have often laughed at my extreme disappointment!

    • Thanks Jacquie. Funny story about the pub in Iceland. I’ve noticed that tourists seem to attract each other, especially in lands where they are dealing with unfamiliar languages.

  2. Excellent thought-provoker, Donna. You make a good balance of points on travel/no-travel and the opening of our minds. I know that for me, growing up the country of Western PA, just going away to a city for college was an eye-opener. When I made my first out-of-the-USA trips (Mexico and St. Maarten) everything really started to change. I learned rapidly the difference between being a tourist and getting involved in the community. As you so nicely put it, there are pros/cons to each. I love settling into one spot and getting to know as many locals as I can–that always gives me a richer experience.

  3. I love to travel and know a number of people who have travelled extensively. I also know people who are not that interested in travelling. Given current levels of education and the availability of information (internet or otherwise) I don’t think that the extent or method of a person’s travel relates to their open mindedness. Most people need only look around in their own communities to be exposed to a range of conditions, capabilities and lifestyles.

    • Brenda, so true that people just need to look around in their own communities to be exposed to range of conditions.

  4. Hi Donna, your post and the quote from Mark Twain have been stuck in my head all week. With all the fear of Muslims and building a huge wall at the Mexican border being served up in the news and debates, you just stop and think… if many of the people traveled outside their own little world it may do a lot to alleviate their fear of the unknown and people that are different than them.

    • Susan, it would be nice if more people travelled outside of their little world (literally and figuratively) to alleviate fear of other people and things different. I am dismayed when I hear about people who have travelled extensively, but haven’t opened their minds because they’ve viewed the world through their fears and not really seen it. Fortunately, I think that situation is rarer than the situation where the traveller realizes the differences are that scary after all.

  5. I’ve gone both ways as a traveler. Sticking to the standard sites and running with a pack of fellow tourists is one type of experience and worthwhile, but really trying to immerse one’s self in a new culture creates the best memories and stretches our limits the most. I was disappointed in the Netherlands because I did my best to say a few phrases in Dutch, but as soon as they heard my accent, it was all about practicing their English. That alienation that comes from not being very fluent in a language is a valuable experience everyone should avail themselves to at least once.

    • Jeri, I too have gone both ways as a traveler and have found both experiences valuable. My husband and I just spent 4 weeks in a small town in Panama. Although we managed very well without knowing much Spanish, largely because the people were so friendly and there was a small expat community, it would have been so nice to communicate more with the locals. We managed to develop a relationship of sorts with our neighbours through the odd word, gestures, and some written notes.

  6. I love the last quote by Mary Ritter Beard about the changes that occur in oneself when one travels. I feel that the years we’ve spent traveling full-time have enriched our lives immensely. I’ve learned to become so appreciative of all the things I used to take for granted as well as value and work at the friendships I’ve made. Travel is a terrific way to learn what’s superficial and what is essential to one’s happiness. Anita

    • Anita, I agree that travel is a terrific way to hone in on priorities in life. Changes do occur in oneself, especially if one travels for extended time periods. You may not realize you’ve changed though until you are back home for a bit.

  7. I agree with you, Donna. You and I are so on the same page. I have a fascination with other cultures and love to travel to BE IN and experience different places. (If only the Middle East were a safe place…) Yes, attitude is what it’s all about, and intention. If one is open and willing to approach the different with a “beginners mind” (as little filter as possible), then magic can happen with new understanding and new friendships. 🙂

    • Ramona, I like the idea of approaching the different with a “beginners mind”. Preconceptions or thinking we already know or understand get in the way of the “magic”.

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