“What can one person accomplish in the face of the vast forces that run our world? The current of the times can seem so fast flowing and complex as to be overwhelming.” Daisaku Ikeda
In the wake of the tragedy in Paris, it is easy to succumb to a sense of hopelessness and despair. This is even more so true when we think of the suffering being experienced by people in other parts of the world that we don’t hear about every day – the countless refugees who are losing their lives as they attempt to flee similar acts of terror or the innocent people being discriminated against because they are different.
As a traveler, I have the great fortune to visit the places I want, pursue activities that interest me, and meet incredible people along the way. But my role as a traveler, my determination as a traveler, is also to serve as a global citizen who shares her culture, her beliefs, her values and who learns from others in an effort to build and construct a peaceful global community.
I encountered several instances of racism while living in Spain, mainly from young children, which concerned me deeply. One day, when coloring with some first graders, I chose to use brown to color in the picture of a doctor.
“Es un negro?” (Is he Black?) asked one little girl.
“No me gustan los negros.” (I don’t like Blacks.) Other little girls also chimed in their agreement.
“Por que no?” (Why not?)
“Porque no.” (Because I don’t.)
At that point, astounded as I was by such blatant racism coming from the mouths of six year olds, which they clearly learned from the adults in their lives, I entered into a dialogue with them about why skin color was not important.
Unfortunately that wouldn’t be the only situation that arose. Another six year old gypsy girl said she was bad because she was a gypsy and all gypsies were bad, and another six year old would later ask me if I worked in a chino (similar to a dollar store and always owned by Chinese people) since I have Chinese roots. I encountered muttered remarks, people pulling their eyes back to look like mine, and the typical attempts to imitate the Chinese language.
The only thing that kept me from flipping out on people was knowing that racism is a form of ignorance and is due to a lack of education. If you look at the history of Spain, you see that their borders were closed for many, many years
and their is little to no diversity. The majority of immigrants are Africans fleeing their homeland to sell things illegally on the streets and the Chinese who own dollar stores, while most tourists are Anglo-Saxon Europeans. There are no Black doctors, there are no Chinese lawyers, there are no Latin American teachers. This is what the Spaniards know; they have simply not been exposed to other races and other cultures and the exposure they do receive is in a limited context.
And this is where my role as a traveler comes in. I’m not only traveling for pleasure, I am traveling for peace. Being a traveler for peace means engaging in dialogue, connecting with people life-to-life, and sowing seeds of compassion.
These acts of terror and war all boil down to this: a lack of compassion and a profound sense of disconnect. We fear that which we do not know and fear causes us to do irrational and senseless things. Rather than taking the time to truly learn about one another we make assumptions, stereotype, and believe our prejudices to be the truth.
“Each individual has immense potential, and a great change in the inner dimension of one individual’s life has the power to touch the lives of others and transform society. Everything begins with us.” Daisaku Ikeda
It is easy to feel powerless when you read the news and of the atrocities that continue in this world. But each and every single person has the capability of making an impact right where they are. And as travelers, those of us who are so incredibly fortunate to see and experience how beautiful and stunning this world and the people who inhabit it is, it is up to us to serve as ambassadors of humanism and peace.