How to Be Less Judgmental While Exploring the World
And the Story of How Traveling Fueled My Prejudices
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. — Mark Twain
If anyone ever said that I’d end up being more bigoted and prejudiced after extensive travel, I’d say they were cray-zay.
Going places was supposed to be the best cure for bigotry and prejudice.
I started my journey with the best of intentions. I wanted to meet as many cultures I could fit into my daily itinerary. I thought everyone has something interesting to show. Every culture is special in its own sparkling way. Foreign people offer life lessons that have been true for thousands of years.
While all of this is inherently true, the more I traveled the more narrow-minded I felt.
Guilty until proven otherwise
If you read any of my earlier posts, you may already know that I’ve held expat jobs which required talking to more than 200 people, face-to-face, every day.
I lived in places like California, Spain, China and Russia. I went to education summer camps, worked for international organizations and finished global projects.
I love everything that comes from international challenges. I strive for the chaos of trying to overcome the language barrier while discussing important issues. Every moment is exciting and it feels like you’re doing something important.
But the truth is, I needed a compass to navigate the immense social landscape. And part of that compass became tainted with prejudice.
I started judging people from cultures I had complicated experiences with, even before they got a chance to speak. It was like someone else did the first impression for them. They were all guilty until proven otherwise. And the more I traveled, the bigger my list of prejudices grew.
Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, right? Or at least I thought that.
Travel Will Set You Free
Going places will broaden your horizons as you’ll be more familiar with problems foreign countries face on a daily basis. And that closeness might wake-up a self-righteous prick within you.
You’ll replace the fear of unknown with good old prejudice.
I live in China now and most of my expat friends can’t stand Chinese people or their culture. For them, everything local is awful and strange.
While I understand the frustration when offered a boiling cup of water as a refreshment, I want to escape attributing such differences to something bad.
I know how uncomfortable it is when an Italian man stands in your personal space, just to spit gibberish at you with his broken English. You want them to get away as soon as possible.
Do you remember that one time you had a lousy experience with an American, and now all of a sudden the whole of the US is a bunch of A-holes?
I feel like this shouldn’t stick as much as it does. And most certainly the actions of one person should not represent the majority of his people.
We Are All Diplomats Representing Our Nations
The truth is, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constant bigotry and prejudice. It’s like a soap bubble that makes you feel less insecure about yourself. In a way, you’re already familiar with that-new-guy even before he openes his mouth.
“Russians are cold and they never smile.”
“Greeks are super-lazy and a horror to work with.”
“Americans are obese, lazy and dim-witted.”
“Italians just want to have sex with you all the time.”
“British are a bunch of annoying alcoholics and drug addicts.”
I’ll take a crazy bet and say that most travelers had at least one of these thoughts occur during their journey. I know I did, more times than I’d like to admit.
Every person represents their own culture when interacting with foreign people. The process of building prejudice might not be fully conscious. But we’re constantly scanning for patterns and correlating them with group behaviors. In the end we fall in a trap of convicting the whole nation for the actions of individuals.
It’s not easy to escape such a mindset.
Don’t Compare Them to Us
The constant annoying trap I’d fall in goes something like this: “In my country we do things this way…” and than I’ll continue to rumble about how things work much better back home. First piece of advice — don’t tell to people in this way. Nobody wants to hear about how better something is at your house.
Even if that person is fully aware of all the flaws in their environment, they still might not enjoy hearing about how better life is somewhere else.
Truth is that every place on the planet inhibited by people is filled with flaws and imperfections. I’d argue that that is the beuty of life.
We’re all different, and similar at the same time. In the end, we’re all humans. And there is no justified reason to automatically dislike someone just because of their place of birth. You don’t know them.
It’s hard to surpass your cultural conditioning and prejudice. It’s a fight one should always tackle in the ring. The way to make an impact is to start from yourself.