I recently saw, “The Help”, a movie set during the civil rights movement in the US about an aspiring author who decides to write a book from the African American Maid’s point of view on the White families they work for. While there are many lessons to be learned from our country’s recent history on this topic, the final quote of the movie truly was lasting for me. The maid, Aibileen, comments that:
No one had ever asked her what it was like to be her.
I equated the quote in my life in terms of travel, since this is how I see the world. The quote beckons me to think about the people I’ve met in my travels and wonder, “what IS it like to be…..the pilot on the plane on the 6:00am flight? The carpet salesman in Turkey? The pearl diver in Japan? The homeless man in Delhi?
What if we asked?
It would rock the world the things we would learn about each other. When we see how similar we truly are, It will teach us to not be afraid and to become bolder in our travels. To connect with a culture allows us a look on the inside and propels us to live our lives more adventurously in our relationships with others. It allows for greater trust and compassion.
Can you imagine the greater understanding we would have of a culture if we took the time to sit down with people and learn what it is like to be them?
When we travel, we barely scratch the surface of a place. If we are on an organized tour, we rarely have time to meet the people, let alone learn about them. The people you meet will generally be the server at the restaurant or the clerk at the hotel front desk. What if…. after you checked in to the hotel you went out and wandered the street and simply talked to people… asked them what it is like to be them? What is their life like in this country unknown to you?
If you are traveling on your own, you have more opportunity for this but it takes courage. Often, when people are so strangely different from us, we shy away from the intimacy of a personal exchange. It’s easy to smile and walk on by. But not only are we cheating ourselves out of the connection but also cheating them out of a connection with us!
When we do connect, we often find it easier to talk with children who are rarely shy to communicate with us, their curiosity winning out over their fear. They will ask the questions we are afraid to. So we tend to gravitate in that direction because it’s safe. But what about the mothers who are also shyly hiding behind their children? Don’t you think it would be fascinating to learn what it’s like to be a mother in this country you are traveling?
Don’t be afraid, go ahead, ask. We are more similar than we think. As you travel, seek out to connect with people and find out what it’s like to be them. It will make travel, and life itself, more rewarding for everyone.