About a month and a half ago, Adam and I made the great leap across the border, to Canada that is. On our way there, I thought about how odd it is that though a different country is only a half a day’s drive away from me, rarely do I think about it. Even lesser so, I would wager, is the amount of people who cross the border, Americans to Canada, that is.
And yet, Adam and I drove there in less time than I normally spend at work (we took the long route through Michigan), and honestly crossing wasn’t too hard. After all, it’s Canada. I didn’t actually feel like I’d left the Midwest of the US. Ontario still looked like the rolling hills and farms of Wisconsin. The only difference is that they do everything in by the metric system, which in hind sight was the best practice I’ve ever had to actually use that system. But I digress.
It was a lovely vacation. Toronto and Niagara Falls, pretty much all of Canada is beautiful. As Adam and I were both veterans of leaving the country before (he’s been to Ghana, and I’ve been to Belize, Costa Rica, and Germany), it wasn’t too bad of an adjustment, adapting to a different country’s way of life.
Because even though it’s Canada, and they’re not that far away from my home, their way of life is different. It’s a subtle difference, not a loud cry that a third world country is, but still, it’s there. In their advertisements. The way people drive their cars. The politeness of the strangers around you. Their laws. How they treat their citizens. How they treat the environment. All of the subtext of another place that’s different from your home.
So what does any of this travel-stuff have to do about being Simple World Stewards?
Well, it helps us to know. To know and understand another culture is fundamental to becoming a person that cares about the world enough to make simple changes in every day tasks. Because when you make connections with a place that you’re not familiar with, you begin to see the world, the whole world, as your home instead of the tiny blot on the map that is your physical place of residence.
And I’m not saying you have to cross continents here, though if you have the chance to, go. Absolutely go. But when you do, don’t exclude yourself to the typcial ‘touristy’ stuff. Live as a local. Go to a local hang out, talk with some locals, learn to live as they do. Remember people’s names. Mark their faces in your memory so that you can count your friends and aquaintences in countries. That will help make the decision to live more lightly on the earth easier, because you understand that the actions you take affect them in a very real way.
I know Mulito, Chester, and Kimo in Belize. I know Roy and Louisa in Germany. I know the meaning of Costa Rican’s phrase pura vida, and I know Ron and Trish in Canada. These are people that I care about, because I had the chance to know them. They’ve all welcomed me into their homes and countries when I didn’t know another person within a hundred, or in some cases, thousands of miles.
But maybe you don’t have the means to go to a different country; traveling is expensive. That’s a very real reality. So go to a different state, go two hours away, or even go to a restaurant or coffee shop you’ve never been to before. Meet someone new. Remember their name. Understand that their life is significantly different from yours even if it’s the next door neighbor that you’ve finally met for the first time.
The largest part of becoming a Simple World Steward is simply caring about other people. Yes, Adam and my’s aim is to help heal and protect the environment, but as humans reside in that environment, they also fall under our desire to help heal and protect. And we do those actions better when we know, or at least have some idea of, those people. Because
In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” ~Baba Dioum
We must teach ourselves to go beyond our comfort zone and to experience new places and people, because if we don’t, we have no basis for why we want to live simply on the earth. How can I take the first step to living my life differently, if I haven’t learned to care about someone else’s?
Traveling is a necessity to growing as a person, not only to learn about someone else, but to learn about yourself as well.
“If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, cureler than a mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet.” ~Patrick Rothfuss