Broad, Wholesome, Charitable Views

June 28, 2013

The Four Corners of the Earth

No doubt everyone reading this has heard of the quote I’m referencing from Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

The travel part is obvious. With experience, especially worldly experience, comes perspective. It’s my opinion that no one can be racist or prejudiced after truly seeing the world of another culture. The latter, however, requires a little more thought. And I’ve become victim to it myself.

Broad views… I think I have a few of those. Wholesome and charitable… I was on the verge of losing them.

What happened to turn someone like me, a world traveler, into an irritable pessimist, disguising himself with a veil of realism?

I vegetated.

I had consistent work in San Francisco from November until the end of 2012. Although I considered it highly stressful, unchallenging, and not the least bit stimulating, I was out in the world; I was meeting new people; I was hearing new ideas (shallow though they may have been). Then the contract ended, and I found myself a freelancer in a big city. From January to March, I spent the majority of the time huddled in my month-to-month room, wasting time on the Internet, writing blogs lamenting my lack of success in work, with friends, and my own feelings of inadequacy. This was my own little corner of the earth, and it did feel like I was vegetating for a lifetime.

Despite all my past experience, I wasn’t out there anymore. No new stories, only retweeting and reading others’. Limited contact with actual people, and of that time, no genuinely exciting conversations. I’m being a bit extreme; I did meet some new Couchsurfers and ran outside every day, but for the most part, my world was closed to outsiders and outside information. I was Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate, and it was hard to see why I was growing increasing cynical, angry, and closed-minded. There’s the key, you see: people who start to believe their self-imposed limitations are real. Sometimes, due to injury or illness, one can’t help but restrict his access to the world, but the majority of us do so of our own choosing. I’ve just described a member of my family.

As much experience as he has had (and he has, believe me) – living abroad, meeting thousands of people outside his circles, raising a family – none of that is applicable, I say again none, if one doesn’t keep putting himself out in the world, even in a small way: getting outside the house, talking with neighbors. You can be a seasoned traveler and carry that perspective with you for some time, but eventually, your information and more importantly your perspective will become out of date. You retreat into a bubble and pay more attention to what you see on the news, what you read on the Internet, than what living out in the world would teach you.

That’s almost what happened to me as well. Though in my case, my bubble was focused on introspection, self hate, exploring society’s definitions of success, and the evils of man- and womankind. It made me bitter, obviously, and less prepared to face the world as it is. Nothing is ever all sunshine and lollipops, as my friends at Eat Your Kimchi would say, but I have to believe what I told myself to believe so many years ago:

“Sometimes, things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most – that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power, mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and – I want you to remember this -€” that love, true love, never dies. Doesn’t matter if they’re true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”

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