Travel and developing empathy

July 4, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Nature

Yesterday’s post on developing empathy started with me writing about traveling, which ended up being today’s post.

Nearly everyone tells me they love to travel. The top reason they give for it is to experience new people, places, and cultures.

I get that appeal, but my goals are different. My main goal in life is to continue improving it. My travel goals are to contribute to that goal. Learning about differences doesn’t serve that goal so well.

My main goal in traveling is to see how similar people are despite their different environments, not to see how different they or their cultures are. I find that finding commonalities improves my life more. This goal comes from applying yesterday’s exercise on people in new places.

People behave differently in different environments. Differences in environments could come from different climates, geographies, cultures, etc. When I look at the individual within his or her environment, I find that everyone responds with the same motivations and emotions. We obviously eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirst, and sleep when we’re tired. Besides life basics, we’re social — we try to make friends, help people, reciprocate other people helping us.

Some people have trouble recognizing even those basics of social behavior. They don’t say people don’t like to make friends — they’ll say something like another person is stingy, as if the other person doesn’t reciprocate as much.

I do yesterday’s exercise whether I’m traveling or not. Seeing people in other environments extends how diverse behavior I can explain without resorting to saying people are different than me, enabling me to understand and empathize more. Doing the exercise in different environments makes the most challenging applications easier.

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