By now mostly everyone in the world has an opinion on the circus that is the 2016 American presidential election. In particular we have formed opinions of the figurehead for this freak show, one Donald John Trump.
Mr. Trump has received an incredible amount of press coverage, mostly due to his bombastic attitude and his hate filled rhetoric. He is a master at generating press coverage, and every single article that mentions him advances his cause and stokes his towering ego (and brings in advertising revenue, let us not forget that). His face is on the front page of just about every American news website on a regular basis. His words, so barbed and laced with bile, resonate with hundreds of thousands. His rhetoric inspires millions of others to click angrily on news articles and memes, and decry all that they think Trump stands for. His campaign has sown division and anger and has seemingly exposed a dramatic rift in American society.
Yet, I can not help but think that for all the media attention Trump is merely the current face of a much larger issue. Mr. Trump is an opportunistic spokesperson for the hatred and division we are seeing in the United States. His rhetoric on Mexicans stealing jobs and raping Americans, all Muslims hating America, and China dancing on the grave of the American economy are meant to connect with an audience who has already harbored such ill informed opinions. And it is a vast audience, far larger than I personally had feared existed.
His rallies are like the comment sections of a FoxNews article brought to life, only it turns out that the comments weren’t all written by the same sixty angry trolls, but by a sea of ignorant, hateful, frightened, misinformed, and self pitying citizens.
So how is it that so many millions of Americans, citizens of the richest country in the world, benefactors of the mightiest economy human civilization has ever seen, think that they need to further isolate themselves from the rest of the world? Why is building walls and preventing others from coming into their country an appealing idea?
I think the answer is simple, and lies within the confines of one incredible statistic. This is a stat that blows my mind every time I check to reaffirm that it is actually true. 64 percent of Americans do not have a passport. That means that at least 64% of Americans have never left the U.S. The majority of citizens in the richest country in the world have NO IDEA what the rest of the world is like.
I think we can all agree that this is a problem.
When you see the world beyond your borders through the lens of corporate media, which delivers nothing but negative “news” and stokes the insidious fires of fear, you will undoubtedly form negative opinions. You can even start to harbor hatred towards people and cultures you do not understand and know very little about.
The cure for such ignorance is simple. First-hand experience. Travel.
The more you travel, the more of the world you explore, the more you begin to understand that our planet is not filled to the brim with hatred and foulness. Sure, those things exist, in every nook and cranny of humanity’s reach. We will never be completely rid of men who want to see the world burn. Yet, hatred is vastly overwhelmed and outnumbered by compassion and community. The idea that the world is filled with deranged people all waiting to take your property or your life is abstract fiction. It simply does not exist as such.
The world is filled with people who just want to live a decent life, who want to see their friends and family flower and flourish. It is filled with people who want nothing more than a measure of safety, a little bit of comfort, and a nice porch upon which to relax and watch the sun set with loved ones close at hand. It is filled with humble folk, capable of great generosity. In other words, the world is filled with people like you and I, who in no way want to use force to dominate and subjugate anyone else.
When you travel you experience the value placed on community and family. When you travel you see how beautiful the spirit of cooperation is, especially in developing countries, where the poorest of the poor share what little they have with those around them, trying to work together to lift each other up out of the mud. When you travel you see people living in true poverty, people who barely have enough food to feed their families, you will see these people smile widely and you will ask yourself the most important question you might ever ponder. “Why are they smiling? How can they smile under these conditions?”
When you travel you learn to appreciate the little things that you might be taking for granted. Clean running water, a hot shower, a road that leads from your home straight to a giant store filled with food.
When you travel you gain a first-hand appreciation for the incredible benefits of human cooperation. You see how hard our ancestors worked to create safety, security, and beauty.
When you travel you open your eyes to the exquisite wonder of our planet, you begin to understand that you are connected to this beauty in the most fundamental of ways. This is your home. Your home is no longer just the piece of dirt you were born upon. The entirety of the planet is your home. And its people are our brothers and sisters, and 99 percent of them are just like you.
This is what makes xenophobia, division, and myopic thinking so damn tragic. We NEED each other not only to survive, but we need each other to build a better life for ourselves, our loved ones, our children and their children; we need each other to build a kinder world for every living being on this tiny and shockingly beautiful space rock that we call Earth.
This is why Randi and I do what we do. This is why we started Just a Pack, and this is why we share our pictures and stories, this is why we will continue to try and inspire and educate others to travel. We firmly believe that Americans, as the wealthiest citizens of planet Earth, need to see the world as a whole. We cannot allow politicians, corporate interests, and hateful billionaires to sow division and hatred. We cannot allow xenophobia and closed mindedness to continue to spread. If we do then we as a species are most likely doomed. We believe that we have the power to change the world, all of us together, and we will continue to do whatever we can to bring about a measure of positive change into this sometimes scary existence.
We are not deluded or naive enough to think that travel, ipso facto, will magically alter the world over night. Education and empathy are merely the first steps in a long and potentially arduous journey. The road to peace is a difficult one, and it necessitates foresight, patience, and sacrifice. However, it is a worthy road, one we should all aspire to take.
So, travel. See the world. Shake a stranger’s hand. Embrace a different culture, experience a new way of life, and revel in the small differences that bind us together.
We are the world, and we are beautiful.