Monday, December 22, 2008

The Importance of Travel

There was an excellent article in yesterday's Parade magazine, the glossy supplement in the Sunday Denver Post: "Because global issues matter now more than ever... Here's How America Can Maintain Its Edge" by Simon Winchester. I was familiar with Mr. Winchester from having read a copy of his book, Krakatoa, which he gave to my wife Nan when she met him a few years ago in Aspen, so I had a personal interest in reading what he had to say.

Mr. Winchester begins by relating the story of how he followed a bucketful of excavated iron ore from Western Australia to a Japanese refinery, where it was processed into steel before being sent to a factory outside Tokyo to be used as material in the manufacture of a Toyota Corolla, which was then shipped to Seattle and transported to a car dealer in San Francisco, where Mr. Winchester purchased it and accompanied it back across the Pacific Ocean to Western Australia to show to the man who had excavated the iron ore in the first place. "I guess we are all linked," the man said. "Even if we never think we are."

Mr. Winchester then points out that despite widespread globalization of the kind detailed in his example, many Americans are largely ignorant of the world outside their own borders. Only thirty percent have passports and only ten percent can speak a second language. He argues that "To fully appreciate that we are all passengers on the same vast planet, it's essential to go and see the intricacies of humankind for yourself." And he backs up his argument with this quote from Mark Twain: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." He ends the article on a hopeful note by encouraging the reader to get themselves a passport and "embark on [their] own journey toward greater awareness."

Nan and I have been fortunate to travel extensively in the last few years, meeting and befriending people everywhere we go. There is no more life-affirming experience than to be a part of the lives of people from other countries and cultures, even if only for a short time, and to realize that once you get past the superficial differences of language, dress and custom, we are all very much the same. We all share the same need for love and friendship, the same desire to find meaning in our lives, and the same hope for a better future.

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