An Intellectual Goal (and, I’m back in Doha!)

As I sat aboard my plane, watching it empty of passengers in Bahrain, fill up with cleaning crew, then refill with passengers traveling from Manama to my home port of Doha, I finally found a way to express something I’ve been kicking around my head for a while: I want to be the kind of person who never dismisses anyone. I am not expressing this goal because I believe I dismiss people but because I’ve found a way to group a lot of desireable behaviors (being nice to secretaries, empowering forced marriage victims, insisting on hearing from both men and women in conversations) under one category.

This is, at its core, a way of supporting universal human rights. I want to have the presence of mind to care about the rule of law in China, Al-Qaeda’s blogging in Indonesia, and violence on the Mexican border and be able to place each of these stories in a framework in my mind. Likewise, I want to be able to be able to meet a historian from Ghana, a technologist from Singapore or a homemaker from Riyadh without being shocked.

Perhaps this is simply wanting to be cosmopolitan, but I think it is a little more. I want to be able to see each person I meet through an article or on a plane as a person, and not as a representative of something else. I want this because people I admire, Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax not least among them, seem to have this ability. But most importantly, because people who irritate me are not this way; a student assumes she knows everything about me because of my passport, or a politician speaks broadly about entire regions of the world that are “backwards”. This begins at irritating and ends at offensively dehumanizing.

Traveling so much in the last few weeks, I have played the “don’t assume” game a lot. When choosing where to sit on my Greyhound bus yesterday, I tried to think about how I was thinking (to use another Pratchettism, my “Second Thoughts”) about each potential seat mate. In trying to see each person on the bus as an individual, I felt less isolated and ended up sitting next to a quiet man in loud hip-hop clothing.

Whether this goal to see the people I work and live with as individuals and not to file anyone as insignifigant will just be mental gymnastics or will grow into a broader philosophy of behavior, I do not know. But I think it will be fun to find out.

Inspirational Quote:

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”– Miriam Beard


  1. That is one of the toughest things for people to decide to do. To refuse to allow anyone to be insignificant as you say. I am one of the people who struggles with doing so at times.

    I think it is easier today to be tempted by such dismissive actions as the type you are speaking out against than it was, say, 30 years ago. Certainly it has always been done, but the second edge to the powerful sword of the internet age, I feel, is the tendency to encapsulate ourselves into a very small sphere. To make our technological boundaries stand in falsely for our human ones, thus allowing ourselves to fly at light speed passed a million stories. A million circumstances. A million individual people. And it is becoming easier and easier to do so all the time.

    I don’t condemn technology, especially in the communications arena. I after all am a blogger and recently started Tweeting. But when we bury ourselves in our ipods and Blackberries, (I am not suggestion you have done this personally), connecting ourselves virtually to the whole world, we tend to miss, or cast off the sections of our world we are in the midst of standing within at any given moment.

    I think all people should travel at least once. Travel beyond their borders. Perhaps we cannot all travel as much as you can, but what a learning experience it would be for the world if we all could.

    Good post.

  2. I found that I was agreeing with you in a sort of accepting way – like “how broadminded she is” – until I was jerked to a stop with the “violence on the Mexican border” item in your list. Until recently I would have been triggered to think of U.S. attempts to enforce its border and would have objected. Now, however, I’ve heard so many personal stories of violence and murder of young girls and women on the border and also inland that have so shocked me in the details – that have nothing to do with political issues, but only of thoughtless violence toward a group that can’t fight back, that is assumed to be victims -and even perceived as “asking to” be victims.
    Because I was born in this female body I can’t avoid empathising with each of these victims: I would have a very hard time talking sympathetically with any violent young male from that area.

  3. Hey,

    When I mentioned the violence on the Mexican border, I was actually thinking in the other direction–that I think I should care about what happens there, rather than focusing on the blood, as this CNN article does:

    Committing myself to seeing people and people in every part of the world is not the same as being on the side of criminals and terrorists. But I do think understanding why young men join gangs (forced addiction to drugs, threats against their families, hand-in-hand with promises of protection) makes me a more effective change-agent. But yes, I agree, it would be (and is) extremely difficult to see as human people who devalue women so completely.

Get in touch

%d bloggers like this: