One of the perks of being an expat is the fact that you’ll be surrounded by new cultures, and different nationalities, all the time. On several occasions, things that you once thought to be weird, or bizarre, will be mentioned by someone as something normal at the places they’re coming from. If we ever face that thought (and we all do), that means that we still have lots to learn when it comes to real empathy.
Empathy is defined as the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. To be able to drop your knowledge and formed opinions, and try seeing the issue with someone else’s eyes. Being mindful that the World carries way too many layers of complexity and there’s no such thing as one right answer/ positioning.
I’ve recently faced a hard time, though, on exercising my empathy on a lunch with other expats. “Sometimes it’s not worth wasting the energy to talk to those people”, somebody said, while referring to a specific nationality. He was mentioning a specific habit from a certain culture, that he finds to be unappealing.
That sort of mindset, in my personal understanding, is one of the root causes of conflicts around the world. But if I were to be fair with the “extreme empathy” philosophy I’ve been trying to exercise, an open mind should be applied in this argument, trying to put myself in the other person’s position. Hence the hard time I’ve faced.
That’s one of the reasons why I love traveling: to be constantly challenged, even in unnoticeable situations. To force myself to understand that my knowledge is way too limited to judge a situation based on my minimal knowledge about it. And to try my best and keep an open mind to every situation, no matter how uncomfortable.
I used to believe (naively, indeed) that expats, or people who had the privilege to travel the world, would be the ones to be empathetic. People capable of dropping prejudices, bringing solutions to their surroundings by exercising empathy. People eager to learn, not only in academic terms but about people and its differences. Though the “species” I was looking for was actually another one. A species called Raw Traveller.
Eva Zu Beck, one of the most remarkable travellers out there (in my opinion), recently shared a post entitled “On Being a Raw Traveller”. Although redefining the concept of “Empathy” was far from being her intention, to me she’s redefined how traveling, and truly exercising empathy, beautifully connect to each other. And that might be the difference from expats/ backpackers/ tourists and Raw Travellers.
“On Being A Raw Traveller” – Eva Zu Beck (LINK TO ORIGINAL POST)
“Raw travellers don’t seek the comforts of home on the other side of the globe. Instead, they dive deep into other people’s cultures to grow their understanding of the world around them.
Raw travellers don’t expect travel to magically educate them. They know that in order to learn, they must go into the world with open minds, prepared to be proven wrong, ready to change.
Raw travellers are aware that they know very little about the world. Their strong suit is not the knowledge they possess, but the openness and flexibility they use to navigate the world around them.
Raw travellers don’t have expectations when they travel. They know that they are merely guests moving through the world, on a constant quest for knowledge and experience.
Raw travellers don’t use words like “weird” or “wrong”. They understand the limits of their interpretation of the world around them, and revel in the complexity of cultural differences, without judgment.
Raw travellers don’t pay too much heed to travel guides. Instead, they venture out in pursuit of what sets their soul on fire, never losing track of their purpose, waking up every morning with the confidence to say: “this is why I travel”.”
How about you? Do you feel you need to exercise your empathy more often and more honestly?