Carolyn and I are just completing a 2 – 3 week stint of travel that took us to Vancouver, New York City, and Phoenix. It’s been an amazing experience visiting family and old friends as well as seeing new places of public interest. New York City serves up the best of American culture in a thousand different ways. Phoenix is an oasis of beauty and prosperity in an otherwise barren wilderness. One can’t help but be impressed by the vastness of this world and the great variety in human life and activity. Our world with its large cities is a complex macrocosm of social activity, but despite differences of all sorts in language and culture, everyone shares the same needs for basic survival and love. It never ceases to amaze me how individual needs in vastly different parts of the world are so similar. People may have large differences in economic status, abilities, personalities, age, knowledge and intelligence but on a personal level, each is just like everyone else as far as their emotional needs are concerned.
This is no new insight of course, but the personal-factor phenomenon in these travels strikes me with new impact. And it has many implications. Often, for example, seeing people in large numbers and impressive surroundings might give us the sense that they have “it all together” and are in need of nothing, least of all some expression of interest from people like us. Large numbers of people can easily have a diminutive effect upon a person — making one feel small and insignificant in a world that seems much larger and more important than one’s own. Secondly, it’s often easier to be more taken up with that which will impress masses of people or even to use large numbers of people for our own purposes rather than wanting to deal with the personal aspects of people’s individual lives. Thirdly, we may think that other people’s lives, worlds, and places where they live, are so much better than our own — the greener grass syndrome. Sometimes it’s helpful to remember a quote by Mark Twain that one of our hosts drew to our attention — “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
Travelling like this makes me realize that though the world of social activity in all its sophisticated forms is very interesting and even quite appealing people need to be loved and appreciated for their individual value and significance. In fact, it seems to me, that what makes the world really interesting and attractive is the time we take for individual attention. Though we travelled far and wide, relatively speaking, what made the trip especially meaningful for me was the time and attention that people were willing to give to us personally and that we in some small way also tried to gave to them.
Inevitably, such an engagement and exchange involves a significant degree of commitment and risk. But the alternative to such an experience is one of boredom, the product of disengagement and withdrawal. We don’t grow by simply being observers — practicing some kind of voyeurism in relationship to people around us. Though it might be helpful to study sociology and human behaviour from a distance it is of no value unless such is also accompanied by a commitment to individual engagement.
We saw many interesting and beautiful places in our travels this September, but what made it especially enjoyable, I think, was the time we shared with people we hadn’t seen for awhile. If any such are reading this, we would want them to know that it was their generous love and care for us that really made this trip fun and memorable. We are grateful that you gave of your lives in such selfless ways as an example to us of what’s really important in life.