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.
“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