That’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned during all these years of travel.
Sure, I can tell you where to snorkel in Bali or give you a great route for a road trip around Romania or explain where to find a unique spa experience in Kyrgyzstan, but when I really think about all of the issues and situations that the world faces these days, I really know nothing at all.
I read. I meet people, all the time, all over the world. I talk and discuss at length with others about politics, about religion and conflicts and economies and why it’s so difficult to find a good pair of sunglasses that actually fit my head shape.
But the more I read, the more I converse with others and the more I travel this fine world of ours, the more I realize that not only do I know nothing, it’s almost impossible for me to know anything.
Travel has shown me that the very global topics that I am interested and eager to learn about, the very topics that we all read about, are even more complex and complicated than I ever imagined. It has also shown me that no matter how many countries I visit, I will always continue to discover that every aspect of life in every single nation is defined by an infinite amount of different thoughts, actions, deals, motivations, interests and beyond.
Every single person involved in anything has their own stake and as a result, has their own views, desired outcomes, reasons for taking sides and so on.
How can I know what every person involved is doing or thinking, both in the open and behind the scenes (where it gets even trickier)? How can I know the reasons why they are doing or thinking something?
And if I can’t know any of that, I’m just left with media reports and the conversations I have with the people I meet, which does provide some information and access to a handful of perspectives, but certainly not enough for me to claim that I actually know what’s really going on, that I actually know the complete story.
I can say I know what’s going on from one or two angles perhaps, but that’s about it.
Does it even matter? Maybe it doesn’t.
All I know is that over the years, I’ve learned time and time again that what’s bad for some people is good, or even wonderful, for others, that what at first seems to be one thing, so often seems like something else, something so completely different, soon after.
And that’s why it becomes so extraordinarily difficult to give sweeping statements about a government, about a conflict, about any situation whatsoever without taking into account every single person that is affected or that plays a role. But it’s impossible to take into account everyone’s position, which is why it’s impossible to possess complete knowledge about anything.
The more time I spend online, and the more time I spend talking about various issues, the more I realize that the internet has tricked us into thinking that we are ’experts’ simply because we have such access to so much information. We feel more comfortable making broad statements about the Middle East, yelling out our conclusions about poverty or claiming that we absolutely know what is going on with Greece right now because we’ve read 100 articles on the matter. But in reality, we still don’t know much at all because the internet can’t provide us with a completely unbiased view of what every person or every group involved is thinking and doing and why.
I’m Just Naive
When someone writes to me through the blog and tells me that my political views are naive or my thoughts on some global problem are overly simplistic, based on something I’ve written, my response is…
To me, naivety is thinking that we, ordinary citizens, know enough about some situation to be able to claim, with such certainty, that we are right and others are completely wrong. None of us have been in the meeting rooms, none of us have seen the deals made, none of us were present at every conversation or heard the exact reasoning for every decision, none of us have spoken with the very people, on all sides, who are dealing with the issue first-hand.
And while relying on the media might give me an interesting story to read, it is important to recognize that whatever I do read is one small, and usually very biased, perspective. Thinking otherwise can be dangerous. Media is big business and with any big business, there’s always a hidden agenda behind everything. They work hard to try and hide this of course but what we read is exactly what they want us to read, not necessarily what is actually taking place, or at least not the complete story.
This is why you won’t see me talking in-depth about conflict, politics or many other global issues. I’ll gladly share my thoughts and general opinions based on what I’ve learned over the years but I’ll always add a note that I really have no idea what I’m talking about in the end, simply because there is no way for me to really know what I’m talking about.
Make sense? Maybe not. Maybe I really am just naive.
But, I still think it’s better to recognize that we only know a tiny fraction about everything. I still think it’s more useful to realize that each of us has been exposed to different information and therefore, each of us sees things in completely different ways, none of which can possibly be fully accurate.
Realizing these things has helped me try to seek out as many perspectives as possible with anything I want to learn about. It has helped me to hold off on making judgments and reaching conclusions without gathering as much information as I possibly can. It has helped me realize that every situation in the world is much more complex than it seems and that I should always remind myself of this fact.
Thank you, travel. Thank you for teaching me that I am indeed quite clueless. Funny enough, this lesson has actually helped me understand the world so much better in the end.
Do you think it’s possible to be truly informed about something? Am I the only clueless one?
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