Travel puts you out of your comfort zone. It makes you see new places and people, hear new sounds, taste new food, and have different experiences. But it does something else. It helps you to identify and understand the situation, feelings and motives of another person. In other words, it helps you to develop empathy. It is a skill that can be hard to develop in everyday life.
If you expect to have a lasting impact on the world, you must first tune yourself to the needs of its individuals and communities, and ditch for a moment any assumptions that what you know is the best. People who are used to rational thinking often tend to see everyday situations and the actions of people in black and white. There is no third option. And that is wrong. Sometimes, it is not about doing what is fair, but rather, it is about doing what is right. For many, this can be an offensive pill to swallow.
Travel can not only improve each of our lives, but it can also make the world a better place. How exactly does it do that? And what does it have to do with empathy?
Travelling helps us realize that something different need not be necessarily wrong. Sometimes, in life, there is no right way or the wrong way. There are just many different ways. When you travel, and experience other people, life and cultures, this fact will become much clearer. Issues you took as de facto have a whole story behind it, and you realize that people have different opinions based on their own experiences, stories and lives. Empathy helps you understand that, and yourself a little better.
If you are travelling, then you are privileged. There are people who never will, or cannot ever hope to travel like you do. You are lucky, and you will understand that. And you will be more empathetic to the stories of other people and their difficulties. Remember, it is easy to be dismissive. It is hard to be understanding. Remembering this, for me, is the key component for empathy.
When you travel, you meet people from various backgrounds and places, each with their own story. The general picture that can be conveyed from this is the fact that your problems are in fact, minuscule, compared to the world at large. There are people in Syria, or Iraq, right now, fleeing from home, leaving behind everything they knew, to get to a place that offers some hope. When you travel, and you hear such stories, you immediately realize how better or well off your life is compared to those people. This is what will teach you empathy, and develops a greater understanding on the moral fabric of life.
Says Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
When you travel, you socialize with other people, and you get to listen to their stories. When we speak about moments in travel that we can never forget, they are often in the company of other people. A place might me wonderful, but a genuine interaction with people in that place can be extremely satisfying. When people travel, they are also more open to other travellers, and share stories easily, compared to two people who are working side by side in the same office. This simplicity, and shared humanity, often reaffirm the essence of life and its myriad of experiences, and gives some meaning of our own lives. This, in turn, builds empathy.
When you interact with a person, and you show a genuine understanding, and empathy for their story, it fosters a pleasant, and positive feeling in the other person. It aids you to understand the other person’s need, so you can effectively contribute. How can you expect to help others, if you do not seek to understand who they are, and what they truly need?
The good thing is that empathy is self serving, and reinforced. You just have to learn to listen, and that is where it starts to develop. Don’t just hear, but listen and understand. Likewise, don’t just see. Observe. The more you work it, the more you’ll find yourself and others feeling remarkable when you do.
And why does it matter? Because, in the end, our travels and the empathy we show can help to build a little more peace in ourselves, and in the world.