Facebook has many quizzes asking us to name (or count) the number of places we have visited: cities, countries, scenic wonders…
But, how many times have we stood in awe at the beauty and wonder right in front of us? How often do we wake with the dawn? Do we listen to the calls and responses of birds? How often have we watched a young child (or pup, or kitten, or cub) take their first tentative, stuttering steps? How many times have we gazed into the eyes of those we love and care for? How many times have we cried; tears of joy, tears of grief, tears of laughter, tears of love?
How many times, too, have we visited our inner selves? Have we visited enough times to know our soul? Have we visited enough times to understand our true place in the world?
The idea, and reality, of tourism, is a fairly recent one in human history. During the Age of Empires (Greek, Egyptian, Roman) some people travelled purely to satisfy their curiosity. Even then though, most travel was by traders or raiders (or variations thereof.) During the Middle Ages, tourism dropped away significantly. It was not until the Renaissance that tourism re-emerged.
That era also introduced colono-tourism to the global arena. We know well the devastating effects this had on indigenous cultures world-wide. From the rape and pillage of Africa and the carving up of that continent for European purposes, to the genocide that swept through the Americas, and the over-running of Pacific societies, including Australia and New Zealand.
Colono-tourism then, and the tourism of today, wreaks havoc on the peoples who have called various places their home. In the process, cultures have been decimated and languages destroyed.
This destruction has not been limited to people, culture, and language. The many other-than-human species upon this planet have faced loss of habitat (homelessness), depopulation, and for many – extinction.
Today, the notion of eco-tourism has been touted as a means by which we might visit the world in a sustainable manner. However, this may not be the case. A very recent (April 2022) paper recognises that the international travel component of eco-tourism to and from the destination has a greater environmental footprint than that of the footprint during the entire length of stay at the destination.2 In other words, eco-tourism is not sustainable.
And all for what?
So that we (the rich, the privileged) can visit. “See the world,” we hear. “Travel broadens the mind” we are told.
Whilst that may be true for a minority of travellers, for the vast majority it is simply an opportunity to take a few “selfies,” and tick the box that says, “Been there, Done that.”
For others, travelling the world is even more damaging. It is an opportunity to export their ideologies of consumerism, exploitation, and superiority. Sadly, this is a truer picture of the modern traveller than is the idealistic one of the “broaden-the-mind” category.
(I must admit that I have been guilty of much of this myself.)
The line from Mary Oliver’s poem at the beginning of this blog reminds us that we don’t need to travel in order to visit the world. We can visit the place on Earth where we are born, live, and die, without really knowing that place, or knowing who we are, and what gifts we may bring to the world.
Let us not be simply visitors or tourists. Let us be active, creative, and engaged participants. Let us have:
· The desire to discover our true being,
· The humility to know that we are but one part of an highly inter-connected world,
· The curiosity needed to be open to the stories and mysteries of all of life (including other-than-human beings,)
· The courage to walk into the depths of despair, sadness, and loss the world offers us,
· The discernment to notice the effects of our actions (whether harmful or beneficial) and be able to modify those actions if need be,
· The tenacity to keep learning about our unique soul, and our thoughts, feelings, and multi-faceted being,
· The serenity to stop and listen to and observe, the beauty, the wonder, and the joy, of the fullness of life,
· The audacity to confront our prejudices, bigotry, and insensitivity to the lived reality of others,
· The grace to accept the vagaries and vicissitudes life throws us,
· The willingness to laugh, to cry, to sing, to shout with abandon,
· The sagacity to know the limits of our knowledge,
· The temerity to look ourselves in the eye and ask, “Who are you really?”
· The bravery to let go of our need for comfort and control,
· The wisdom to let go and accept the impermanence of all things.
Maybe then we might be able to say to ourselves, “I did more than simply visit this world.”
1. This is the final line of the poem When Death Comes by the American poet Mary Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) who was inspired by nature for many of her poems.2. Maria Serena Mancini et al., Ecological Footprint and Tourism: Development of sustainability monitoring of ecotourism packages in Mediterranean Protected Areas, in “Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism,” 23 April 2022.