Regarding the Election, Empathy and the Role of Travel

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Cuzco, Peru. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Since the beginning of this blog, I have striven to foster inclusiveness, compassion, empathy and respect for differing cultures, customs, skin colors and paradigms.

In my mind, travel plays an essential role in cultivating these inherently healthy attitudes.

I’m not talking about tourism, I’m talking about deep travel. The kind where you make yourself vulnerable, where go out into the world and let it destroy parts of you: the parts that are intolerant; the parts that are self-serving; the parts where hate and isms live. We all have them. And for the sake of our collective future, we all must work to destroy them.

It should be no surprise that the primary objective of this blog is to capture the experiences we travelers have in the world and share them with you in a way that encourages you to question the darkest corners of your beliefs and build new beacons of understanding within.

National Geographic Traveler Announces Photo Contest 2012 Winners
A Hmong hill tribe girl begging for change in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Like many of you, I’ve been in a state of deep reflection since this week’s election. I’m wondering how to proceed, and how to carry out my personal mission in a way that makes a difference. Because I, personally, am not okay with American policy being built upon a platform of distrust, hate and fear.

I started out with a belief system, as all of us do; thankfully, it has changed a lot over the years. The world has changed me. The world has changed me because I have let it.

I remember watching a family tour the Habitat for Humanity home in Dodgeville, Wisconsin that would soon be theirs, as our youth group helped to build it. I remember watching children celebrate the construction of a well in their village in El Salvador, where they hadn’t had drinkable water for 40 years. Their big dream was to raise enough money to pipe some of that precious water to their school. (This travel immersion experience was completed through Global Awareness Through Experience, which I would highly recommend.) I remember senior citizens in a nursing home, wiping away tears, while a small group of us sang Christmas carols for them. I remember a little boy juggling and begging in the streets of San Salvador, walking among cars at a stoplight. I remember children approaching me on the beach in Mexico, peddling “annimalitas,” little bobblehead animals. I remember an elderly man in Hungary, offering me directions and asking for change in return. I remember a homeless man stretched out on a piece of torn cardboard on a subway platform in New York, crying out in agony, aching to be heard and understood as the crowds stepped around him in their hurry toward their day.

Each and every one of these moments challenged my beliefs and cultivated empathy and understanding within me. Because I let it.

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Buskers in Baia Mare, Romania. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

At times, the world also seems to push us toward hate and fear. It tests us. Someone close to me has been robbed at gunpoint twice, both times by people of the same race, different than his own. He once confessed that made it hard not to be racist. I am friends with people who have been threatened for their beliefs, abused, raped, injured in wartime, and bullied by people who are different than themselves. I was recently treated poorly by an overseas Airbnb host who clearly had issues with Americans. Even on home soil, I’ve endured harassment in the office for my gender, and public humiliation by a member of the media for my appearance. Who among us hasn’t been called a name or been ridiculed or dismissed or misjudged because of our religion, appearance, relationship, gender, color, culture or beliefs?

With all of the pain we experience through the acts of others, it’s easy to see why isms exist. We are afraid. We are protecting ourselves. And categorizing, segregating, devaluing, deporting, walling off and stereotyping an entire demographic gives us a sense of control in a world that feels, simply put, out of control. Hate and fear give us a sense of power over a situation, when we might otherwise feel powerless. It’s a false sense of power, one that is internally destructive, but a sense of power nonetheless.

The story doesn’t have to end here. Allowing anger, hate and fear to grow within ourselves is not okay. We can choose. It’s difficult, but we can do it. And travel, deep travel, the kind that cracks you open, the kind that puts you among people you don’t understand, can help. That is, if and when you’re ready to allow the lessons in.

Are you ready?

Get your passport. Book a trip. Go off the resort. Put yourself way the heck outside your comfort zone. Make yourself vulnerable to the world. Suspend your beliefs and educate yourself by experiencing the truths of travel. These are simple, small steps you can take to change yourself, and cultivate empathy on a planet that so desperately needs it.

Gaining new perspective in Cusco, Peru. Photo by Joel Badzinski.

Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

 

 

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