Friday, March 2, 2012

The Empathy of Travel

When I, or most people think of the word "travel", I also think "vacation". Whether it's to escape from the routine, to introspect one's soul, to engage in shameless debauchery, or to see new lands, travelling renourishes and replenishes the soul. It's to be taken as a happy experience.

Through CouchSurfing, I've had the privilege of meeting a few intense travelers with a neverending wanderlust, one having traversed all seven continents, another motorbiking through Africa a la the Motorcycle Diaries, and another wanting to be Ms. Anthony Bourdain - travelling, eating, taking photos, and of course getting paid.

Many times, travel's also to prove a point. I, for one, can easily fall under that burden. Our personalities and human natures are such that we want to imitate and recreate the experiences that others have felt. So when I hear extraordinary tales and wowing anecdotes, it takes me farther and farther to the extreme of being a serial traveller, to see every possible land and culture, to sample the most outrageous foods, and to one-up their accomplishments.

But that would only be a childish conclusion. Travelling, like any other activity in life, is just an experience, but usually a pleasurable one at that. But it's also a privilege. Many all across the world don't have the werewithal or the circumstance to even travel too far away from their homes. And I think that's something that I will see in the eyes of when I do end up one day in a Mongolian ger, in the mountains in Peru, or even back home in Burma.

And whether it be travelling, or writing, or living in New York, or going through the emotional rollercoaster of love and relationships, I've always come back to the conclusion that in the end, all of us have been given the privilege to experience the gift of life. It may be difficult to envision how the vast impoverished majority all over the world, struggling to calm the growls of their bellies, helpless to their children and loved ones who they cannot help, but instead enlisting for their labor, can possibly pretend that there is any joy to be had in life.

We all accept life as an ecosystem of injustices and conflict. We all have degrees of personal suffering inside us. We may become too caught up and complacent with our contrived complexities of our own lives that we lose our inherent positivity and hope deep within us. We've become accustomed to self-preservation instead of selflessness. And then when we travel, it'll jolt us, splash cold water in our faces, and pop our plastic, man-made bubbles. It'll suspend our cynicism and instead will invoke our deepest empathies. It'll reenergize us to help the poor and weak, to take less and to give more. It'll reaffirm our faith in humanity and in life. It'll remind us of the reason we love the future, and why we dream. Why we hold on to our innocence of youth and the endless possibilities and opportunities that came with it. Why we love. Why we give and share. Because happiness is both a selfish and selfless endeavor - one cannot exist without the other.

So travel. Travel well. Travel well to become a better person.

"You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us"
- Imagine, John Lennon


Ula said...

"So travel. Travel well. Travel well to become a better person."

What a lovely conclusion, I could have this printed on a t-shirt!;)

NKD said...

Despite my agreeing to this, my decisions in the past few years have led me to the complete opposite lifestyle.