29 Apr 6 Ways Travelling Can Increase Your Empathy
If empathy is all about stepping into the shoes of other people, then there is no other place where you can be exposed to a range of perspectives than to be surrounded by people from all over the world. When you travel you meet people from everywhere, people of different nationalities, of different religions, of different cultural backgrounds. It is the perfect place to develop relationships with people outside of your immediate circle and understand what life is like outside of your own world. Here are 6 ways that travelling can increase your empathy:
1. You strip away your preconceptions
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, whatever that may be. The fact is that you are experiencing what life is like for a person who lives in a different part of the world. Actually experiencing it, and not having a preconception of what it may be like. Preconceptions are one of the big barriers to empathy because we develop ideas in our mind without seeing the truth for ourselves. When you travel those preconceptions are challenged and become informed by real experiences that allow you to understand and appreciate the lives of others.
2. You open up to strangers
When you travel, especially if you’re going solo, you tend to be more willing to strike up a conversation with a stranger. More willing than if you were, say, sitting in a café back home. You find yourself discussing the places you’ve been, the places you love, the weird and wacky experiences you’ve found on the road, and you may end up sharing more personal stories which lead you to find that you share the same interests and values of another. Conversations are a way to ignite empathy because they create human connection, which is what empathy is all about, and travelling brings about many of the best kinds of open and meaningful conversations.
3. You step outside your comfort zone
The types of experiences that travelling can bring aren’t always those that involve the same type of comfort as you would get in your own home. Giving up that comfort and inserting yourself into the life of another is an important avenue to effective perspective taking. It also gives you the opportunity to appreciate and acknowledge that what comfort means to you, might not be what comfort means to someone else. And by gradually expanding your comfort zone, and becoming more comfortable with the unfamiliar, you’re increasing your ability to make meaningful connections with other people.
4. You learn about other cultures
Culture shock can happen to any of us. At first it may seem alarming, but it is such an important part of travelling because it is the beginning of a journey towards the understanding of a different culture, and the understanding of life in someone else’s world. In order to fully understand a different culture we must experience it and immerse ourselves in it. This could mean anything from speaking with the local people, to tasting the foreign foods, and even something as small as taking the local mode of transportation. When travelling to a new place, everything you do and everything you see is contributing to your understanding of a new culture and increasing your empathy towards the people of that culture.
5. You’re surrounded by opportunities for shared experiences
We share experiences with our friends and family back home but the kinds of experiences we can share with people from all around the world transcend boundaries in ways even deeper than imaginative perspective taking. You can imagine what it is like to be Buddhist, but until you sit down with a Buddhist Monk face to face, listen to his stories and how he lives his daily life, you may never fully understand. You can imagine what it is like for a person to live in a home without electricity, but until you visit a family in a rural Cambodian village and see how they live happily with lanterns or solar power, and listen to stories about their lives, only then may you understand. You may even realise that even though we each live our own unique lives, we all share some commonality, and by sharing these experiences, we are able to better appreciate the ties that connect us to our fellow humans..
6. You let go of your ego
We’ve all been guilty of thinking just a little too much about ourselves from time to time, taking too many selfies, and worrying too much what other people think about us. There’s nothing like landing in another country to make us step outside of our own heads. Travel makes us see that the world is, not only what we see every day, but a vast globe of the continuous movement of millions of other people, across hundreds of countries, in thousands of cities. We travel to one place only to scratch the surface of connection with others, and it makes us understand how small we really are in the grand scheme of things. It allows us to see how much opportunity there is for human connection in this wide world full of people just like us.
So when you next step out on your travels, why not try giving your empathy muscles a stretch, as well as your legs?
Bianca Caruana for Empathy Nation