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Travel teaches us we live in a world of many views

Rich Mayfield
Rich Mayfield
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Last Sunday, I celebrated the Fourth of July in London … although celebrate may be too strong of a word to describe the sense I had of being a lonely patriot in search of a parade.Although it is certainly understandable, it was still more than a little disconcerting that our Independence Day didn’t rate a column in the London papers or a mention from our British friends.There were no stars and stripes festooning the boulevards and no fireworks filling the night. There was just Londoners going about their Sunday business on a beautiful July day.It is both odd and instructive to be an outsider. With just a smidgen of sympathy, one can be introduced to new ways of thinking, different world views.

Travel can be a great teacher. Discovering other patterns for living than the one to which we subscribe can open doors of understanding.It is almost trite to describe the leisurely meal late into the night in a French restaurant or a siesta slept away on a Spanish afternoon, but these rituals of culture and tradition shape the way others view their lives and the world they live in.To presume that the rest of the world confronts the problems and conflicts of contemporary life in the same ways we do is not just patronizing and polarizing, but downright dangerous.Witness our apparent ignorance of Middle Eastern mores. Even if the best of intentions are assumed by our attack on Iraq, our failure to understand the profoundly humiliating ramifications of occupation for this ancient and often terribly abused culture has been disastrous.Our isolation and even innocent arrogance has the potential for accomplishing precisely the opposite of what we intended.

The award-winning journalist and author, Thomas Friedman, has spent much of the past few years reminding his readers of the dangers of misunderstanding the Middle Eastern mindset.His columns in the New York Times have consistently called for the recognition of a “poverty of dignity” among many Arabs, particularly young males. Friedman has pointed out how failing to comprehend is deep anger and resentment can be cataclysmic.”The real weapons that threaten us are the growing number of angry, humiliated young Arabs and Muslims, who are produced by failed or failing Arab states – young people who hate America more than they love life. Helping to build a decent Iraq as a model for others – and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – are the necessary steps for defusing the ideas of mass destruction, which are what really threaten us,” Friedman wrote in the June 4 New York Times.Our apparent failure to understand this dramatic difference in world views continues to confound most Americans. It is interesting to note that the most traveled member of the White House staff, Gen. Colin Powell, allegedly was the least listened to when the decision to invade another country was made.

It is also important to recognize that our president had never traveled outside America before assuming office. One can only guess how a few prepresidential trips abroad might have affected current foreign policy.The thousands of young Americans who can be seen this summer backpacking across Europe and beyond offer a potential strategy for world peace that may be far more productive than military invasions.The opportunity to visit with those who differ from us, to enter into dialogue, to engage in compassionate debate, surely is the source for any hope of a safer world for our children and beyond.Award-winning columnist Rich Mayfield is back after taking some time off. He writes a Saturday column. He can be reached at pastormayfield@earthlink.net.


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