When you learn how big the world is, you realize how small you are and how little you matter; but, if you never leave your hometown, you may always have it backwards.
I’ve traveled and lived in a multitude of places in the last decade and a half since I turned 18 and flew away from the nest. From college in Southern California, to Medical School in Louisiana, to adventures in Italy and Asia, Residency in Houston and a few other sprinklings of a month or two here or there, I’ve seen a lot of places. I am NOT one of a large, but decreasing, majority of humans, particularly Americans, that has never left their hometown or at the least home state. With the commercialization of transcontinental and international travel and the acceleration of transportation and communication technology over the last 50 years, adventures that my parents and grandparents only dreamt about, are limited only by money and time. Yet, even among those with an abundance of either one of these resources, I have met many that are intentionally confined to a comfort zone they’ll never leave.
Everyone thinks they’re the best – that their city or their state or their country is in some way, shape or form, better than the next. People’s opinions on other parts of the world are limited by what they see on the news, hear rumors about or what is conveniently come across in social media. The feeling of superiority and elitism over other dominions seems driven by an interest in self-worth and an inability to humbly admit that none of us are the best.
Living in multiple places, especially over the last year working Locum Tenens, I’ve listened to people outright castigate other places. Maine thinks Texas is ONLY a conservative close-minded broken system with gun-toting cowboys that just shoot each other. Louisiana thinks California is ONLY just a bunch of hippies smoking marijuana at the cliffside after they surf for the day. The United States thinks it’s the ‘best’ and ONLY country in the world and every other country is trying to move here because their country sucks compared it. I love listening to people in small towns that have never left as they openly talk about their perceptions of other places that they’ve never been to. I sit silently and don’t intervene most of the time, realizing the futility after I’ve tried for years to convince people that there are some open-minded Texans just as there are some close-minded Californians, that there are SCORES of countries with much better health, infrastructure, compassion, cultural enthusiasm and longevity than the United States. And, that the United States is not nearly as Great as movies, media or propaganda surmise it to be.
It makes me so sad listening to someone from a small Southern town that is scared of traveling to another part of the United States, or someone that thinks Baton Rouge and LSU are the ONLY things in the world that matter, or someone that never wants to go to China or Mexico or Europe because they’re limited by a solitary point of view. It makes me sad that someone thinks Houston, Texas is the best city in the world (it’s REALLY REALLY NOT) and has no sense or desire to even be open to a conversation of other places. Not to mention, the awkward cultural identifications you come across are perplexingly convoluted and oxymoronic – to have someone boat about their Italian or Filipino heritage but then comment on the perception of such as a third world country or default to never actually wanting to go to these places; but, another time and place for that rant. To be fair, I’m not immune to these thoughts – I definitely never had any intention to come to Maine until work landed me here; but now, I’m dying to return as often as I can.
Yet, I realize these things only because I left the nest.
In the last 5 years of political discord in the United States in particular, and from a larger scope since the very foundation of such divides, people have become increasingly more self-focused. As our ability to see the world expands, the tunnel vision on our own bubble seems to become more narrow.
While travel alone isn’t a necessity to have an open view of the world and modesty about our upbringings as being only an individual experience that can’t really be extrapolated to other environments or regional/cultural areas, it broadens a perspective of understanding. Greater, if possible, is actually living somewhere else. I’ve encouraged anyone I ever meet to leave their bubble and to live somewhere else for a time – the old adage of only being able to understand someone by walking a mile in their shoes can be possibly expanded to say: You can only understand a new place by walking a mile on it. I only understood some of the ways people thought in the South by living there, I only was able to even conceptualize a different view of the United States by leaving it and I have slowly downgraded the outdated belief I was raised with in a smaller close-knit community that you should be born, raised and forever live in the same place.
If someone hasn’t told you yet, there’s a lot out there. You’re smaller than you think you are and where you come from matters less than you think it does in comparison with the world. There are just as many people that think the same way as you in any corner of the country and pessimistically in the galaxy. So open your mind and leave your comfort zone, leave your small town and realize that we are selfishly all too hyperfocused on a small bubble that is relative and relatively unimportant and not special.
If nothing else, just go watch Men in Black.