One thing I realized this year is that I really enjoy history.
And not that fuddy-duddy, walk around a crumbling ruins site in the hot sun, licking your parched lips and scratching yourself silly while you listen to a tour guide talk about all the kings and wars that are so far off but have no meaning because oh we “think” it was the birth of civilization, or hey look at this sculpture of this myth that carries no significant cultural weight to my worldview.
No. This year I’ve really enjoyed living in diverse cities around the globe. 11, cities throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, all for a month. Not just a “hey I’m here to get the highlights”, but a “hey, wait, here are cultural trends, norms and habits that I’m not used to seeing other places!”
So I found myself asking a lot of the same question: “I wonder why?”
Learning about the backdrop of why a city lives, breathes, eats, sings, walks, fights, votes and loves then way it does — the much more modern stuff, is energizing.
The stuff that was done 30, 70, 200 years ago, the stuff of full lives and tedious relationships. The way cities are designed and whether it works or doesn’t, the way cities adapt and develop, whether they still depend on their port statuses, the way rebellions have started, the way youth are encouraged (or not) to stand up for what they believe in. The stuff that shapes culture of each place I’ve visited, and why I may or may not like the way everyone smokes outside, or I may love the traditional pastries or the outdoor cafe life. Its reinforcing, that we as humans like certain ways of building societies, of doing things.
Yet “This is my pain, mine alone, and I feel personally targeted”, humans tend to think. “You don’t know what I’m going through.”
But, we’re not alone, because we’re all in charge of shaping and contributing to these big, bold, complex societies, all leaning on one another, all learning from one another, and its almost laughable in hindsight how every modern conflict, stigma or growth leads into one another. Heck, an easy one is charting the Vietnam War to the Cold War to the Middle East conflicts (and throw in the Balkan wars, Argentina’s fiscal collapse, you can find connections in any way we watch modern societies plagued by intolerance and strife).
There’s something incredible to look back and pinpoint the exact moment where you can watch a fear turn into a war, a war turn into a new divided country, turn into a genocide, turn into a mass incarceration, or a societal stigma. The things we do, and the people we support matters. The way we stand up for others matters. The way that people choose fear, or love, in Vietnam or Cambodia or Russia or the Balkans or Indonesia or Chile has a direct effect on how others view fear, view human nature, shape love, craft support. It makes or breaks families, it makes or breaks cultures.
The decisions that we vote on, don’t just start with our backyard and our neighbor’s zoning rights, but our rites of cultural development, our thoughts and words and futures as a collective.
And we are a collective, as individualistic as each person walking this planet feels. But, as you travel, you realize just how similar and human we all are — from the fly Malay teenager wearing the same shoes as yours, or the Moroccan woman who shares her snacks with you on the delayed local train in 100 degree heat, to the Serbian grandfather who lends you his umbrella in the rain, to the college aged Argentinian girl protesting for her rights, to the Chilean farmer who is thinking about permaculture and making the world a less toxic place, feeding families good, healthy, organic food, to the Cambodian Tuk Tuk driver who tries to share his after-work beer with you.
All the places that we go to have an identity, that is created over years of hard work and planning, by many personalities and voices. And its inspiring to think that we have centuries of watching this happen, the thick webs of culture and politics and love of surfing or wine or skiing or cheese. The places we enjoy today have been because of passion, of intrigue, of development, of hard work.
And for the most part, none of which was done on the internet.
Traveling the globe this year reinforced the fact that everything we do as a collective, as our public selves, makes a difference.
The things we decide on today will be felt by others we can’t even begin to comprehend, years down the line. The ideas and the products and the services and initiatives we begin to build will be continued or changed or lifted up as a statement, good or bad. The people we choose to build things with will be strengthened, or chastised, or honored, or supported.
So choose well.