So, you’re not blind, right? You’re reading this. But are you blinded?
For me, traveling and living abroad have opened my eyes to a lot. But, I’ll confess. I still suffer from way too many blind spots. The juxtaposition of experiences I share below recently revealed to me yet another blind spot of mine.
Indeed, I always encourage others to travel – and especially live – abroad. No question, the experience can be a huge mind-opener. We can find so many excellent quotations supporting this idea:
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca wrote.
Similarly, Mary Anne Radmacher acknowledged: “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
Andre Gide challenged us to acknowledge the risk: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” (That can be scary, folks!)
St. Augustine’s famous line reminds us of the danger of failing to explore: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Likewise, too, in quintessential (Mark) Twain style, we get the reprimand for not traveling and exploring our world: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”
And Twain took the long view as well: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
I especially appreciate this observation from Gustave Flaubert because it is a different take on the subject:
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
So here we go. Becoming modest through travel. What, exactly, did Flaubert mean?
I remember my first trip to Manila in the Philippines, back in 1988. The buzz, busyness and electricity of the city had me fascinated. Literally. In fact, when I learned how those clots of electrical wire were sometimes abused, I was shocked.
My Filipino friends told me the reason for this jumbled mess had to do with “power stealing” by poor people. “It’s a way the poor get the electricity they need but can’t afford.”
This sight is common in the developing world. And so is the idea of this “power stealing.” In fact, even Bill Gates seemed to get it wrong when visiting Thailand in 2016.
But my well-meaning friend was actually blinded by his own cultural perceptions as well. He just assumed what he had heard rang true: poor people “steal” electricity from those jumbled wire masses. And he passed that on to me.
For a long time, that’s how I viewed those clots of wires as well.
Two immediate thoughts come to mind here. The first is that so many of us, myself included, are quick to jump to conclusions without verifying them. The rise of “fake news” during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and in its wake are testimony of the need to verify our facts better. All of us. Across the board.
(Still, just in: Fake News Probably Has Less Impact Than You Think. It’s an ever-evolving world, indeed!)
But, regardless of whether those wires transport electricity or low-voltage phone and telecommunications information, they are eyesores. A jumble of wires blocking out the sky. Unnatural, disturbing.
The second thought is that my observations almost 30 years ago in Manila connected with an experience I had recently, helping to show me how I remain blinded in areas I thought I was not. And it happened at home, even.
A Cultural Blind Spot
It would be easy, coming from a First World nation at the time to think the Filipinos were backwards. But then, fast forward to a time not long ago.
I’m at a party with my husband and we’re talking with some German scientists. Yes, no kidding. We’re talking about living in the U.S. And one of them points to the electric wires draped nearby, almost overhead.
“So, this kind of thing shocked me when I came to the U.S. [No pun intended!] In Germany, all our wires are underground. I couldn’t believe I’d see such old-fashioned infrastructure in the U.S.,” he declared.
He wasn’t being mean about it. Nor arrogant. But, I’ll be honest, I had never noticed it in my own country!
Of course, there are many parts of the U.S. where the wires are underground. But the neighborhood we happened to be in is older, and no one has addressed this infrastructure issue in the midst of likely more pressing concerns.
This made me humble. And a bit embarrassed. But what they had observed was true.
We can, of course, extend this to all areas of our lives. This blindness. This cultural blindness, even bias.
And getting back to Flaubert’s quote, I realize I become humble through travel because I come to realize what a big place the world is, and how limited my experiences and mind really are.
A past travel experience combined with a “travel at home” experience of speaking with these German friends taught me a lesson in humility. It also illuminated the importance, for me, of keeping my eyes wide open and my perceptions sharp.
Today I’m thinking, “How else does being in my own culture – in my own head – blind me?
Have you experienced being “blinded by home”? Tell us your story! Consider submitting a short piece through StoryWeave!
Image Credit: Kaigraphick on Pixabay, Creative Commons