Build bridges, not walls

The President of the United States has been in office for just over 10 days and has quickly moved to make good on campaign promises, including signing the executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”. Like countless Americans and individuals around the world, I disagree with this executive action and am concerned that it unfairly targets individuals based on religion, puts thousands of refugees at greater risk during one of the greatest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, and in the long run will only further incense radical terrorists.

I don’t have the solution for world peace, but I am confident it lies in education. Education by way of books and facts, and also education rooted in experience. Experiencing other cultures, other belief systems, and other ways of life can open an individual’s eyes, brain, and heart to what makes another human. By becoming humans to one another, we can begin removing the layers of “us”, “them”, and “other” and begin to build bridges between cultures and beliefs with a goal of achieving peaceful understanding.

Travel is a great privilege and luxury of mine. I’ve been fortunate to explore North America and a small section of Europe. Besides offering me wonderful treats, travel has pushed me out of my comfort zone, to challenge my paradigms and internal biases, to face and interact with others who aren’t ‘the same’ as me. Have I come back with some deeper understanding of other faiths, cultures, or people? Maybe, maybe not. I have come back with the understanding and appreciation that it’s not just my world, there are many of us, we are different, and we can coexist peacefully. 

I’ve been moved by snippets of responses and wise words from people around the world, who are sharing broader perspectives on this dangerous order:

“It’s clear to me that thoughtful travel can be a force for peace — and, yes, national security. When we travel to troubled lands and get to know people who are supposed to be our enemies, we humanize them. By meeting each other face to face, we make it tougher for forces in their land to demonize us with their propaganda, and tougher for our government to demonize them with ours.”Rick Steves, International Tour Operator

“As a person who has cooked alongside people of many different cultures, enjoys the cuisines of other countries, and is eager to learn more about them – yes, this is also about food… I’ve been welcomed in many countries, grudgingly accepted in others, but each time I gained a new perspective on a place and its people and food. Those experiences have made me a better person and citizen.”David Lebovitz, American chef in France

“In our view travel is about connection, and through connection, transformation. It’s the most intimate, most personal form of global commerce, the exchange of languages, folkways, traditions, and ambitions. We prize that exchange—the embrace of the unfamiliar, the give and take of crossing borders—in all its forms, quotidian to historic. We don’t take it for granted; and we know that, sometimes, it’s a matter of life and death.” – CondeNast Traveler editorial

There has been pushback and commentary that this order is about illegal immigration. I encourage you to read again. Banning people from one country specifically, targeting several others for stays on immigration, blocking people from re-entering the country does not address illegal immigration and provides no solutions. This is an inflammatory action that cannot have positive outcomes in the long term.

Where do we go from here? I encourage you to get involved in a way that’s meaningful to you. Attend your local World Affairs programming. Write, call, email your representatives to share your perspective and ask them to take action. Volunteer with your local cultural programs or refugee/immigration organizations. Take a small action and smile at someone who looks different from you in the market. And when you can, travel. Not to an all-inclusive resort, that caters to making you feel ‘right at home’. Go off the beaten path, go somewhere that pushes your comfort zone and experience new foods, new people, new cultures. Bring that understanding home with you.

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