Passports to Understanding

“If we try to understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou

“Human beings are more alike than unalike, and what is true anywhere is true everywhere, yet I encourage travel to as many destinations as possible for the sake of education as well as pleasure.

“It is necessary, especially for Americans, to see other lands and experience other cultures. The American, living in this vast country and able to traverse three thousand miles east to west using the same language, needs to hear languages as they collide in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

“A tourist, browsing in a Paris shop, eating in an Italian ristorante, or idling along a Hong Kong street, will encounter three or four languages as she negotiates the buying of a blouse, the paying of a check, or the choosing of a trinket. I do not mean to suggest that simply overhearing a foreign tongue adds to one’s understanding of that language. I do know, however, that being exposed to the existence of other languages increases the perception that the world is populated by people who not only speak differently from oneself but whose cultures and philosophies are other than one’s own.

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 to understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou, “Passports to Understanding,” Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.

Yes, just observing others’ culture and hearing others’ language helps build understanding. It doesn’t have to be an exotic encounter. It doesn’t even have to be by travel – quarantine is no excuse! – although such encounters make the realization all the more powerful. Our common language-unique humanity matters. Keep listening, keep experiencing. And: find your voice, share your stories. Contact me if you have a story you want to share here on Fluency/It’s About Language. We need to hear it.

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