Be the Change #34: Be a Citizen of the World

I’m back to my blog.  Thanks for your patience during my long break. 

During part of my break, Al and I travelled to Canada for two weeks.  We saw eye-popping fall foliage, heard some toe-tapping music at the Celtic Colours festival – and made new friends from all over the US and the world.  New York, Ohio, Arizona, Canada, Germany, Australia, Iran.  In Quebec City, I helped a Chinese family find the Chateau Frontenac.  Our waitress at the Bay of Fundy was headed for the Dominican Republic and then Thailand as soon as the tourist season ended.  This is one of the things I love the most about travel: meeting people from “away” as they say in Nova Scotia. 

I especially loved seeing people from every corner of the globe at Niagara Falls.  Niagara Falls is one of those places like the Eiffel Tower or the Trevi Fountain.  It is not just a national treasure.  It belongs to the world.  People of every nationality take delight in it, delight that is the same on any face.  Language doesn’t matter, and isn’t even necessary.  The awe and joy are the same on a brown face, a black one or a white one. 

This is how travel makes you a better person.  It teaches you how much people are alike.  It opens your heart to people who are different from you.  I’m always urging people to travel abroad, for this very reason.

But, if you can’t travel, you can still open your heart and expand your mind just by spending time with people who are different from you.  There’s even some scientific evidence for this. 

In a 2015 TED talk, Dr. Jeff Mogil described an experiment where  people were asked to do something physically painful: plunge their hand into a bucket of ice-cold water.  Subjects were asked to do it under 3 different circumstances:  alone, with a friend, or with a stranger.  Then they were asked to rate how much pain they experienced.  When the experiment was conducted along with a friend, the subjects reported MORE pain, because they empathized with their friend who was experiencing the same thing, and felt his pain, too.  When the experiment was conducted along with a stranger, the perception of pain was the same as if they were alone.  The empathy effect didn’t happen.

But here’s where it gets really interesting….When they tried the experiment the same way, except the subjects played a video game with the stranger for 15 minutes before the experiment, the empathy effect DID happen.  15 minutes of playing a game together was all it took to feel a stranger’s pain just as they felt a friend’s.  15 minutes.

So, my plea to you, if you can’t travel, is to find some other way to spend time with people who are different from you; a different race, different religion, different country or ethnic group.  It will change how you think.  More important, it will open your heart. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *