Two Powerful Concepts for the “Why” of Travel

The welcoming center has all the information you need when you arrive.

The welcoming center has all the information you need when you arrive.

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the ‘why’ of travel.

What is its value personally, politically, socially…

At Chautauqua I had time to think about this in many ways. It’s one of the reasons that I loved it there – Chautauqua stimulates thinking. I will tell you more things I liked about it below but first I want to zero in on two concept I learned there that ring very true to me.

Of course, many concepts, ideas and bits of knowledge were gained, but these had particular meaning for me and my travels.

These charming statues are the work of a local sculpture.

These charming sculptures are the work of an artist from nearby Mayville.

Exploring the world and reducing social distance

Despite knowing its value, every once in a while I’m troubled by the idea that what I do is frivolous. Travel is such a luxury. And it’s a luxury enjoyed by very few in the world. But when Chris Hayes spoke about social distance in his speech on America and meritocracy, it gave me language with which to understand the value of my travels and, I hope, my work.

Social distance does not have anything to do with physical distance.

Social distance: the spread between groups within society whether it is class, race/ethnicity, power…

The greater the social distance the more easily people treat others poorly. The powerful oppress the powerless. The elite treat their own with more legal compassion than they do those who are not their power equal. Basically, the further away we are from sharing experiences with “other” groups, the less caring we are of them.

Travel helps reduce the social distance between us and the “other”. Whether that’s the people of Alabama, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Northern Ireland, Toronto or Alaska, by traveling we get to know others better, we reduce the social distance and we care more for the people of that area.

Travel is not frivolous. We must travel to increase our understanding and caring for others in this world. And we must insist that our politicians, those who represent our countries, travel across our countries and internationally.

The 10:45am lecture held every day was a chance to gain new insight into the world.

The 10:45am lecture held every day was a chance to gain new insight into the world.

Building trust through iterations

On the Friday of the week I was there, the morning lecture was actually a panel discussion led by Chris Hayes with Megan Smith, VP of Google(x), James Smith of the US Army and Dalia Mogahed formerly of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. They talked about many issues including the question of trust. How can we trust each other in today’s world with so much violence and a media that is so ready to tell us about it over and over again.

Their discussion suggested that trust is developed by iterations.

Iterations and trust: the more often something is repeated the more one trusts that it is true.

Let’s put these two concepts together. Traveling once is a good thing. It alone can reduce social distance. But traveling over and over again, sometimes to the same place, sometimes to different places, truly increases the understanding of “others”. It’s not just about shortening the social distance, it’s about doing it repeatedly.

If the many iterations of the media focus on issues that compromise our trust of a group and our own many iterations through travel suggest that trust is warranted, then we return home with a more balanced perspective.

So, in addition to the need for travel to reduce social distance, there is a need to do it frequently for doing so will help us care about and trust one another more and make for a more peaceful world.

Every house in this town turned into an educational playground, has a porch.

Every house in town has a porch which turns into a venue for lively discussions.

10 Reasons I love Chautauqua

And now, as promised, the reasons I love Chautauqua…

  1. The programming is varied and interesting including lectures, discussion groups and workshops. Attend one or many. Whichever it is, you’ll come away with new ways of seeing the world
  2. It has its own orchestra, opera company and theater company that easily compare to those of other cities. There is no lack of entertainment.
  3. It’s a walking community (with no construction during the 9 weeks of the Chautauqua) where everything is close by.
  4. Everyone is approachable and loves to be engaged in conversation.
  5. Yet… there is no pressure to be involved in heavy conversations.
  6. Many of the activities take place on the porches of the buildings.
  7. It’s on a lake so there’s swimming and boating.
  8. Sports are not forgotten as it also has a gym and golf course.
  9. There is a clear effort to be inclusive of all belief systems and races.
  10. It is incredibly well run. In Chautauqua, it’s rare to find yourself thinking “they could have done that better”.

If you haven’t already read them, here are my other posts on Chautauqua.

While Chautauqua Institution supported me on this trip they have had no say in how I am reporting it.


  • vijay

    no one cmment on blog before me