The notion of walls and of building walls, has been in the media A LOT lately. Whether it is the walls Europe wants to (re)establish to keep out those people who are forced to leave their countries and are in desperate need of a new home, or the omnipresent comments of a really strange orange man, trying to become America’s next president, who wants to breed fear among people, so they (think) they need walls to protect themselves from others “stealing” (whatever) from them – walls in their heads as well as actual ones “protecting” their country.
But what we actually need for further development, better communication and worldwide successful problem-solving is to bring down the walls that shield us from each other. We should be embracing our differences instead of identifying them as obstacles. But we have to get to know those differences first. Funny thing is, as Hans and Ola Rosling point out in their very entertaining talk at TEDSalon Berlin “How not to be ignorant of the world”, you might have some very wrong perceptions about the world and our fellow people in general.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness (…)” (Mark Twain)
Traveling across our walls
For me, the easiest way to learn is to break down any personal “wall” through traveling and experience. One is not afraid of what one knows. Only if we get to know other people, languages, cultures and opinions can we truly break down what makes us “strangers”. It is so much easier to respect a culture you’ve experienced yourself than one you only know from the media. Not only was this already pointed out by Mark Twain in the 19th century but a recent study also proves that traveling abroad makes you a more trusting, empathetic and open-minded person.
Talk away those walls
By traveling abroad you are able to break down “personal barriers” that you might be surrounding yourself with. You meet and talk to people you would not have met otherwise and you open yourself up to new experiences and maybe also different opinions. Most of the time, we even feel more comfortable about talking to strangers in another country, than we would while at home. Think about it! How often do you speak to someone you have not met before on the bus, ask someone on the street for help/directions or decide to have your dinner with a person, you just met minutes ago? Never? That is what I thought. And yet, while traveling? See my point?
There was not a single country I visited during my travels, where I have not been fascinated by the people and their (often very special) culture. I experienced that art as well as religion can bring you closer together. Both (most of the times) need some sort of explanation but understanding why somebody believes in a certain message, be it of the religious or the artistic realm, is one of the most personal things you can share with another human being. While religion especially (as well as art) can be a tough topic, it does not have to be, all it actually needs is sincere interest.
Eat up your boundaries
Food can be a great “icebreaker” if one wants to get to know another culture and get rid of his or her own prejudices. By traveling you do not only get to feel comfortable around all kinds of people but, if you are lucky, you also get to eat stuff you have never tried before. Here again, you can overcome you own barriers, broaden your horizon and maybe break down some culinary walls.
Have you ever shared a meal with someone form another culture? I highly recommend you do. Eating together as well as sharing food has always been part of human history. Most cultures take a lot of pride in their cooking because it is so deeply rooted in their culture. Though, I am not your “natural socializer” breaking down culinary wall realms have been some of my most exciting experiences of my travels so far. It was an eating experience in Lisbon, where my husband an I shared our table with a couple we had never met before who shared their wonderful Portuguese food, love of their country as well as their entire evening with us, that made us feel welcome and sparked my love in everything Portuguese. In a small Japanese restaurant in Kyoto a businessman who came to sit next to us at the bar introduced us to the beauty of Japanese food as well as culture just by ordering food and eating with us. It is still one of my fondest travel-memories, though we could not speak a word of Japanese and the kind man’s English was not great either. A little hospitality (and some “mmmmhhs” and “aaahs”) goes a long way.
Even the food experiences that we were not expecting to be great, most of the time turned out to be delicious, eye opening and well, broke down walls, so to speak. I am looking at you Polish borschtsch, you Palauan crab or you Swedish tube-food.
Why not try it out yourself. Dine with a stranger from another culture and find out about your differences and similarities. The best thing? You don`t have to travel far to enjoy such a meal. Discover new perspectives during a social dining evening, here in Vienna.
Different but the same, no walls required
I recently heard a very inspiring talk by Katharina Moser, passionate European, entrepreneur (check out her agency for European communication projects MOSAIK) and author at the last CreativeMornings event at the secession in Vienna, where July’s topic was “Love”. Katharina talked about her “love” for Europe and its diversity, which is actually its greatest advantage, and how “in times of crisis, Europe should rely on its biggest asset, its differences”.
So true. And not only for Europe but also for the rest of the world.
Let’s tear down our walls, instead of building new ones.