I woke up yesterday, as did the rest of America, to the news that there had been another alleged terrorist attack in Europe – this time in Brussels. My first thought, naturally, was shock – this attack comes so soon after the bombings in Paris last November – and of course, my thoughts then turned to my upcoming trip to Italy. When I saw my roommate (who is coming with me on this trip) last night, her first response was, “I’m a little scared. Are you worried?”
Truthfully, the answer is no.
I’m sad. I’m heartbroken for the victims, their families, and the people of Brussels. I’m disheartened that these attacks keep happening. And of course, I’m a little concerned. But I’m not worried, nor am I scared. And that doesn’t mean I take this lightly. It means I choose to remain optimistic, hopeful, and encouraged to continue traveling.
There are many reasons for the people we call terrorists to act the way they do, and there are many reasons why they choose a particular target. Among the debates and disagreements over religion, which often play a major role in terrorist attacks, the root causes are intolerance and closed-mindedness. One of the beautiful – and most important – things about travel is that it fosters human understanding, empathy, and acceptance of those who are different than us. In my own personal circle, I can tell you that the people I know to be the most tolerant, empathetic, and open to other cultures and ways of life are the people who travel. The opposite, for the most part, is true for those who do not explore the world.
My favorite author Maya Angelou once said:
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
I’m not saying you should run out to these conflicted countries and try to befriend potentially volatile strangers. I am saying, however, that you should keep traveling. Keep exploring the world. Keep stepping out of your comfort zone. Keep breaking down social barriers, cultural ignorance, and religious divisions. Keep learning. Never stop imploring the world and its people to teach you all they know.
A friend of mine visited Colombia last year – a country that, until recently, was wracked by corruption, crime, and political instability. It has just begun to shed that reputation, and emerge from its shadow as a welcoming country that is finding peace again. Unfortunately, it’s not quite there: my friend was robbed at gunpoint when her bus was taken hostage by a group of civilians. She was shaken, naturally. She made her way back home, understandably upset and struggling with a sense of wavering faith, fear, and post-traumatic stress. She didn’t jump right back in the ring.
However, just this month, she got back on a plane and headed overseas for the first time since she was robbed – with a renewed sense of faith, optimism, and hope. She inspired me, and while I am grateful that I haven’t had a similar experience to hers, I remain aware that I, too, at any moment, could become a victim. The caveat is — I can become a victim in my own hometown. In general, we are no safer walking down our own streets at night than we are taking a public bus in Columbia – or arriving at an airport in Brussels to catch a flight.
So what do we do? We have two choices: to travel, or not to travel.
If we don’t travel, if we stay home and shut ourselves in our homes, if we never leave the comfort of our hometowns and the people, ways of life, and cultures we know natively, the terrorists have won. They’ll have succeeded in instilling fear – and therefore control – in our hearts, and we let evil reign.
If we travel, we choose not to let fear direct our paths. We choose to continue on with our lives, making the most of each day and each adventure, filling our hearts and minds with knowledge, understanding, acceptance, and love.
I choose to travel. And I hope you do too.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”