What does travel do for us? Mark Twain said that it’s “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” That can be true, of course, but certainly the act of traveling is not a guaranteed cure for small, unhealthy thinking.
Several years ago, one of my sisters and her husband sent what I consider the most obnoxious Christmas card ever. Its greeting was, “This year we got to go to Paris. Again.”
Marcel Proust insisted that, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” and you can do that without leaving home. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” And L. Frank Baum’s cherished protagonist Dorothy Gale learned, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”
Malcolm Gladwell once proposed a prohibition on ever telling anyone what college you attended in order to remove prestige as a factor in college selection. What if travelers were prohibited from ever telling anyone on their return where they had been in order to remove prestige as a motivation for traveling? Would that encourage us instead—at home or on the road—to “carry the beautiful with us”?
Max Roser, an economist working at the University of Oxford, said that at the close of 2015, only 6 percent of Americans surveyed believed the world was getting better when, in fact—by many significant measures—it is:
According to Future Crunch, the year 2016 saw:
- The discovery of potential cures for Parkinson’s, AIDS and sepsis, the rollout of a cheap vaccine for cholera, and dramatic declines in malaria death rates
- Big wins for LGBT activists in Japan, Finland and Slovenia, and women’s rights in India and Iceland
- Global declines in executions
- Drops in income inequality in the US and China
- Increases in German employment (despite huge refugee intakes)
- Big conservation wins for tigers in China, elephants in Chad, bees in Europe, forests in Cameroon and oceans in Indonesia
- The accelerating death of the fossil fuels industry and the incredible explosion of renewable energy around the world
…but these stories were vastly underreported.
“Forget fake news,” Future Crunch said. “Our real problem is balance. Respectable news outlets say they’re giving us an objective view of the world, yet drown us in a daily deluge of conflict and negative headlines. It’s manufactured drama and we can’t tear our eyes away. Bad news is great for business…because it’s an addictive product. That’s why it’s everywhere.”
Roser gives three more reasons for these overwhelmingly negative erroneous views:
- It is hard-wired in human psychology to watch for signs of danger.
- The 24/7 structure of the media highlights negative subjects.
- We are unaware of how inconceivably exceptional our current living conditions are from the perspective of our ancestors.
Each of us controls the information we consume and the worldview we form as a result. Are you brave and discerning enough to recognize how far we’ve come and help continue to make things better?