I come from a long line of adventurous and independent thinking and souls. My great grandfather grew up in the south, but joined the Union Army during the Civil War. One of my grandfathers traveled from a small town in Slovakia to find work and a new life in the United States. Another grandfather grew up as a virtual orphan in a remote area of Virginia and began a trek across the country finding work when he was still a young teenager. My father was a traveler who had lived in or visited most of the states by the time he was thirty. His goal was to see and experience it all, so I have little doubt that once airfare was in the grasp of ordinary souls he would have journeyed to other countries as well.
All of these men were also voracious readers. Their interests spanned many topics and among their daily routines was time spent leafing through newspapers and books. They were curious souls who wanted to learn about and see as much of the world around them as possible. They were risk takers who found great joy in discovering new horizons and unique ideas.
I suppose that I caught the family bug that continually leads me in search of the almost infinite variety of the world and its people. I am drawn to travel and learning like a moth to a light. Sadly my risk taking was somehow squelched, so my forays into the world are generally limited to vicarious experiences rather than grand adventures. I suppose that the death of my father at the conclusion of a cross country move dampened the fires that might have sent me on grand journeys around the world. When my mother became ill when I was in my early twenties my rooted fate seemed to be sealed. My risk taking days were done save for opening my mind to ideas and cultures and beliefs that I was able to gather through reading and study. My travel came only in the form of short vacations.
I lead a conservative lifestyle but my research has cultivated a progressive mind. I suppose that the fire of my curiosity was first lit by my father, but it became a conflagration under the influence of my high school English teacher. My unrelenting determination to become a citizen of the world was further stoked by my college professors and as I encountered more information about the incredible history of humans, I wanted even more.
My quest has led me to friendships with people from many different countries and cultures. My acquaintances represent a United Nations of backgrounds and stories. I have come to hold the deepest regard for different ways of doing things. While I cherish my freedoms and my own country I realize that it is counterproductive to believe that ours in the only best way of doing things. I have expanded my horizons by opening my mind to possibilities just as those who influenced me taught me to do.
I have taken down the borders of my mind and pushed myself to consider the many ways that the people on this earth choose to live out their days. It is fascinating to read unedited and honest histories and biographies. It is humbling to learn how much alike we are as humans, but also how many different points of view there are. In trying to understand why things I see patterns in our behaviors and the underlying desires that drive us. Nothing is actually happening in isolation. The theory of the butterfly in Africa influencing the weather in Antarctica is a powerful metaphor for our connections whether we realize those relationships or not.
Each of us depends on the other in a long thread that stretches around the earth. The trees cut down in a South American rainforest will affect us all. The war in Ukraine is part of a long arc of history, and while we may not see its connection to us in the moment, over time its importance will become quite clear. Diseases and poverty anywhere on the planet affect us even when we are blind to their existence. Whether we like it or not, we are one gigantic family of humankind that has yet to fully understand the importance of working together.
We tend to resign ourselves to particular ways of thinking and then languish there even when out beliefs somehow feel uncomfortable. Instead I would challenge everyone to consider looking honestly at the many different sides of an idea even when doing so feels uncomfortable. The process allows us to better see our place in the long arc of history and to appreciate the contributions of people very unlike ourselves.
I often think of the revolution that came about at the beginning of what would become the United States of America. According to what I have read, only about thirty percent of the colonists were so unhappy with the status quo that they saw rebellion as the only way forward. I find myself feeling a kind of connection with the rest of the people who must have been horrified by the chaos that ensued. I know that some of them even pulled up stakes and left for Canada for a time. They were caught in the midst of a political disagreement that they did not desire or even support. I suppose that such is the honest truth about any kind of war of ideas. It takes time and sometimes even grave hardship for people to adjust to new ways of seeing things.
Brave souls in our past have considered means of moving societies forward. It’s a painful process often involving one step forward and two back. Galileo was persecuted for teaching that the earth is not the center of the universe. Rosa Parks was jailed for asserting her right to sit anywhere that she chose on a bus. Jesus was nailed to a cross for suggesting that the only commandment that mattered was love and that some rules were not just. Today across the globe heroes are teaching us where we humans have got it wrong and how we might repair our relations with one another. It’s up to us to at least listen to what they have to say. Whether we like it or not we are all citizens of the same world.