Travel sans bubble

It’s only human nature to be wary of another culture and its people. After all, our proclivity to be leery saved the lives of many of our ancestors, at least those in the midst of human warfare or competition with a herd of mammoths for a waterhole.

But today, with nukes galore and trigger fingers everywhere, we’re more likely to be saved by empathy, not leeriness. If fewer weapons and more empathy would be deployed, we could step away from the nuclear brink and occupy our trigger fingers in other, more peaceful ways.

You can hone your ability to see life through other eyes by traveling, but how you travel is the all-important question. Do you travel in a bubble, or do you open yourself up to a different way of living?

For example, here’s how to build a bubble on a trip to Oxford, England, where I lived and worked for three years. Stick to a tour, glue your eyes to the guidebook and try not to talk to the natives, except for the tour guide and waitstaff. I saw countless tourists taking that very tack in Oxford. And what did they take away from it all? Sights of beautiful stone buildings.

But did they get a feeling for modern English culture? Did they ever ask an English man or woman what they think of America’s behavior in the world? Did they ever chuck the guidebook and just walk around Oxford and see what they could see? If they had, they could have seen people wearing whites and playing an other-worldly form of croquet, or they could have seen the wall of an ancient, hidden pub built originally to repel the ancient, dastardly Danes, or they could have seen someone digging up parsnips in a community garden called an allotment, an urban practice that helped keep the English alive during World War II.

But if those tourists floated through Oxford in a bubble, they would have been empathetically deaf and culturally blind. Sans bubble, they might have connected with the English, not just their stones.