This Memorial Day weekend, I think of St. Augustine It is not a city in Florida that attracts many visitors, but a 4th-century philosopher known for his contribution to Catholic theology and Western thought. St. Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.” Here we are, at the unofficial start of the summer travel season, and Americans are stuck reading only one page. The extent of the journey I will take over the next few months is to travel to the yard or invade the fridge – which is, when I don’t bring my dog, Milo, for a walk. I am not alone. Even as some states take a small step towards reopening, many Americans seem to stay on for a while. As a result of coronavirus, the usual complexity surrounding travel has been magnified by a factor of 100.
One of the worst things about prolonged isolation is losing valuable opportunities to interact with others who are not seen or act or think like us. That’s the way we learn and grow as humans. So, after this pandemic ends, Americans really need to get up and leave. In his bestselling book, “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell writes about new neural pathways that form when we meet other people. This pathway helps us overcome stereotypes that are creeping in the community. The unconscious bias, as is known, is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice. That too, often, does not fit into one’s values. Gladwell says that when we change our experiences, we change our impressions – eliminating unconscious biases. This pandemic is blocking our neural pathways. For example, enmity towards Americans of Asian descent – something I wrote a few weeks ago – continues, not abating. In the past two months, there have been more than 1,100 documented attacks. Our fellow citizens, Americans of Asian descent, were spat on, shouted at, even physically attacked. They were blamed for bringing the “Chinese virus” to the United States. Asian-American children are also ridiculed. Imagine the scars that this cruelty will leave. Ironically, this happens even when our country celebrates the Asia / Pacific American Heritage Month, as we have done every May for nearly 30 years. This warning recognizes many Asian and Pacific Americans. The local public television station, KPBS recently aired a documentary series entitled “American-Americans,” which recorded the role that this community played in shaping the story of our nation. Such programming is intended to broaden viewers’ knowledge and build understanding among cultures.
This is the same work that we do every day at the National Conflict Resolution Center, where our training gives people the tools to find common ground, respect differences and encourage tolerance. An unfortunate alternative, and too convenient, is to look for information. which reinforces our prejudices and fears. We have seen, firsthand, the consequences of taking this path: the “us-vs-them” mentality that results in hostility, manifested as vitriol or violence. Still, there is no substitute for the opportunity to meet the world, to face. Travel teaches us that people from all cultures are more alike than different, regardless of variations in their appearance, habits, and language. The journey opens our minds, reshapes our thinking and deepens our humanity. ASA, for most of us, at least for now, travel is just a dream.
Alain de Botton’s book “The Art of Travel” offers improvements. The author returned to London after a satisfying trip, feeling depressed. To re-create his travel experience, de Botton introduced the concept of “room travel,” a very timely idea pioneered by a French citizen some 200 years ago. The idea is to travel around your room – like in your own bedroom or living room – with the same level of curiosity and awareness you bring to travel in a new place. I did not give up completely on the real thing. But for now, I will travel to the yard and imagine that this is Senegal, which I visited last year. I will recall the wild life and beauty of this country. And if he agrees, Milo can play the role of a wolf. The NCRC is recognized nationally for its conflict management and communication strategy. To learn about NCRC programming, visit ncrconline.com
to request modification Contact us at Here or [email protected]