[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Most people I share today’s belief with seem surprised or even shocked when I express it. Probably because the way I say it — that I don’t like traveling — seems contrary to something nearly everyone values. Also, I travel a lot and talk about how much I get out of it.
If I have to travel, I’ll find ways to make it amazing, but if I don’t travel I can make staying home just as amazing. The best way I know to put it is through one of my favorite passages of the Tao Te Ching, which describes how the opposite of traveling opens opportunities unavailable to those who don’t learn to stand still.
A model for traveling: You can learn as much from your next-door neighbor as anyone else.
From the Tao Te Ching:
Learn how to stand still
if you want to go places.
Get on your knees
if you want to stand tall.
If you want wisdom,
empty your mind.
If you want the world,
renounce your riches.
Push yourself until you’re exhausted,
and then you’ll find your strength.
You can go far
if you don’t have anything to carry.
The more you acquire,
the less you can really see.
Most people view traveling as an unqualified good. You learn about the world, other cultures, other people, other food; you learn about yourself, your culture, and so on.
I agree you can get these things while traveling, but I believe you can learn as much from your next-door neighbor as from anyone else in the world — whether from Paris, in Machu Picchu, on the pyramids, in the jungle, or anywhere. People are people around the world. No matter where you go, you’ll always find certain similarities. Likewise, between any two people you’ll always find differences. No matter how similar your next-door neighbor is to your, and their background to yours, they’ll always have differences you can learn from.
Sure you can find differences between foreigners and you, but those differences are harder to find when there’s an Eiffel Tower in the background. Most people go to where famous sites are, which means they’re interacting less with what might be different. I believe that if people go to where famous sites aren’t, they’ll find people more like the people back home.
If you think you can learn more from people in different cultures than you can from your neighbor, I believe you haven’t learned how to learn from your neighbor yet. Which means you aren’t getting as much out of travel as you could.
That said, I recognize some things only travel can bring you. Travel exposes you to different parts of nature — different plants, animals, geology, climate, and so on.
Also, if you do learn to stand still, you can get things out of traveling you can’t from staying in one place, though while traveling you don’t get what you could from staying in one place. Again, I don’t see traveling is an unqualified benefit. The only way I can is if I devalue what I get from staying in one place. Maybe I spoiled myself living in as diverse a place as New York City, but then I value diversity. I figure someone who doesn’t would get as much from where they chose to live. Unless they chose a place to live they don’t like. In which case traveling will cover up and possibly extend the misery they’ve inflicted on themselves for choosing to live in a place they don’t like. Again, I think they would do better for themselves by staying in one place, realizing they don’t like it there, and moving.
In today’s world, traveling usually involves putting a lot of jet fuel or gasoline into the environment. I don’t like polluting. Also, coincidence or not, when I leave New York City, I almost always get invitations to awesome parties I miss for leaving.
When I travel, I tend to travel for work, when someone wants me to, pays for it, and gives me time to explore while I’m there, not just work.
When I use this belief
I use this belief when deciding if I should travel or not.
When I travel, I use this belief to get more out of the experience.
When I don’t travel, I use this belief to get more out of staying where I am, generally as much as I would get from traveling.
What this belief replaces
This belief replaces feeling compelled to travel with the freedom not to travel, knowing you can improve your life just as much without it. It replaces feeling like you lose out when you don’t travel with the opportunity to benefit from your neighbors.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to traveling more purposefully, learning more from your neighbors, and getting more out of your travels.
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