In the wake of the most recent terrorist attacks in Belgium, my heart is saddened not only for the families who lost loved ones, but for the way this shapes how we view our world. After having personally and independently circumvented the globe for more than 365 days, I can confidently say that the world, despite these unprecedented horrors, is still an inherently good place.
The extremists that commit these monstrosities are misguided and do not reflect the peoples of any specific religion, race, creed, or country. Their acts, although horrific, are of a marginalized group and we only give them more power by living our lives in fear. This fear is what they are preying on. They are hoping we begin to limit our travel, cut ourselves off from one another, fragment our unity. Our fear feeds their acts, hurts the local people economically, and our future generations view of the world.
Before leaving the United States, many people warned me of the dangers. During the trip and now that I have returned one of the number one questions I am asked is, “Were you ever afraid? Did anything bad happen?” Sadly, this fear-based questioning is a reflection of how people now see the world. As a scary, uncertain place. However, while a degree of caution is advisable in all situations, as is listening to your gut/intuition, there is a stark contrast between these things and living in fear and allowing it to petrify us from experiencing cross-cultural communication, understanding, and travel.
Another warning I was given prior to embarking on this journey was to never admit to being American while travelling. Many suggested that this would put me in danger and that I should say I was from the less internationally controversial country of Canada. Everyone likes Canadians, right? While it is true that the USA does not have the best reputation overseas, the American dream is still very much alive for much of the developing world. In addition, lying about who I am and where I am from is not going to alter any perceptions about our great nation and its people. I want to show people that citizens the United States are kind, caring, open, and honest people. Just as all Muslims or populations from the Middle East do not have the same beliefs and actions as the extremist terrorists, each American does not agree or have anything to do with the decisions made by governmental decisions and/or groups of extremists residing within our country’s borders who also preach hate, discrimination, and elicit fear. Despite their marginalized actions, the rest of us who call the United States of America home need to stand proud and shine our light brighter.
Instead of hiding behind a lie, I chose to be an independent Ambassador of goodwill to others who may never personally meet someone from the United States. I even went so far as to proudly don an American flag pin on my backpack. The reception I received was always one of curiosity and open dialogue. I was not met with immediate hate or distain. I did not feel unsafe. I left those places with new friends, new experiences and a better understanding of others way of life, and the world we live in and I truly believe I left behind the same thing in those who I had the privilege to meet.
Throughout my journey to 25 countries and in some of the most populated cities like Tokyo to some of the most remote areas of the Amazon, I met kind stranger after kind stranger willing to not only show me kindness through actions big and small, but who were open to getting to know me despite any pre-conceived, negative notions of America/Americans. I implore each person on this planet to do the same. Do not judge the masses by the actions of a few.
Positivity attracts positivity, Openness attracts openness.
Consequently the opposite is also true: fear breeds fear and negativity attracts negativity.
Do not quit travelling or live in fear. This fear is their fuel. Be vigilant, but not intimidated. Stand united, not fragmented. Be positive. Be open. Be an Ambassador of goodwill unto the world.