Escaping the Comfort Zone

Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins. — Old Indian Proverb  This quote, I believe, embodies the global citizen lifestyle.  At its core, the movement is about understanding and appreciating the differences and similarities between cultures.  People like Heidi, Ken and Andrew go out and get their hands dirty.  They coordinate joint operations between two massive aid machines, watch over human rights and heal neglected prisoners and through it learn themselves and others (Cain, Postlewait, Thompson).  They purposefully throw themselves out of their comfort zones, facing down bullets and bug bites to help others, all in the name of cultural connectedness.  While not all of us will battle warlords in Mogadishu, we can learn to appreciate and understand other cultures and through this make the world a better place.

A great way to understand and immerse yourself in a culture is through travel.  I was fortunate enough to be born into a family with both the means and the will to travel internationally, a lifestyle that not everyone has access to.  We spent weeks in places like Ecuador, Morocco and Belize.  The time I spent abroad has without a doubt enriched my life and given me new perspective.  Thomas Bernier writes that travel can be incredibly beneficial.  Aside from providing health benefits, travel “gives us a new perspective about life and especially our life, it can help us change some of our habits or even create new ones.” (Bernier)


Traveling exposes you to new cultures and customs that you may have never imagined.  The key is to immerse yourself in the area you are traveling.  Instead of going to the burger bar at the hotel, try to a local favorite.  My father spent 6 months in Damascus living and learning in a mosque.  He left the soft life of college behind to go out and experience something completely different than what he was raised on.  Just as Ken wanted to leave the fake and formulaic life of Harvard behind, my father put his education on hold to enrich himself culturally.  No university can offer that.

Yet universities often try to condense this cultural osmosis.  They set up month long service trips where students build schools and teach children.  And institutions of higher learning are not the only culprits.  Missionaries of all faiths descend on poor and rural communities, preaching salvation and God from their hotel rooms.  These groups are missing the point of travel, to lose yourself in a locale and culture.  If you are to take anything meaningful away from travel you must throw yourself out of your comfort zone.  Eat those fried crickets and visit the local place of worship.  Get out of your bubble. 

In my experience travel is not the only way to get out of your comfort zone.  Debate and discussion in their many forms are an incredible way to exchange ideas and vet said ideas against one another.  By arguing in a respectful way we can all bring our ideas to the table, often times surprising each other with perspectives that we may never have imagined.  A study by Joe Bellon found that debate can “arouse conceptual conflict, subjective feelings of uncertainty, and epistemic curiosity; increase accuracy of cognitive perspective-taking; promote transitions from one stage of cognitive and moral reasoning to another; increase the quality of problem solving; and increase creativity” (Bellon 6)  In short, debate helps us realize that not everything in life is black and white, the truth lies in the shades of grey.  Even if two parties can agree on the facts (a rare occurrence), their differing values can result in any number of interpretations.  What bothers me most is that as a society we in many ways shun productive debate.  We are far more scared of insulting one another than coming to meaningful understanding.  They say you should never talk about sex, God or politics with your friends lest you accidentally insult them.  I would contend that some of the best and most productive conversations hinge on these topics.  As a society we need to do a better job of getting out of our ideological comfort zones so that we can have these meaningful conversations.

Once again I find myself thankful for my upbringing.  I was raised without any kind of religion.  Instead I attended Jewish Bar Mitzvahs, Catholic mass and Buddhist ceremonies.  I went to a public school where a majority of students were Hispanic, African American, Albanian or Asian.  70% of the student body was on free or reduced lunches.  While my neighborhood friends attended private schools filled with people culturally similar to them, I was raised in a melting pot of 2,600 students.  I learned to appreciate differences in culture and I am better off for it.

Instilling a desire to explore and be comfortable outside of ones comfort zone is often difficult.  Adults are frequently set in their ways and can become angry and violent if pushed too far.  The best place to begin cultivating the precepts of global citizenry is at an early age.  “Education must be a priority. Global Citizenship is not an additional subject – it is an ethos. It can best be implemented through a whole-school approach, involving everyone with a stake in educating children, from the children themselves to those with teaching and non-teaching roles in the school, parents, governors/school board members, and the wider community.” (Teichert)  Furthermore,  “traveling abroad and having a wide range of experiences can open a young mind to all sorts of ideas and possibilities that will affect their thinking and understanding for the rest of their lives, even if they never again get the chance to travel.” (Banes)  This understanding is what we need to cultivate.  By breaking the negative cultural feedback loop so many people fall into we can create a new generation of global citizens.

Works Cited
Banes, Karen. “Educational Travel and the Benefits to Children.” Helium. Helium, 14 Apr. 2008. Web. 01 July 2013.
Bellon, Joe. “A RESEARCH-BASED JUSTIFICATION FOR DEBATE ACROSS THE CURRICULUM.” Argumentation & Advocacy, Winter 2000, Vol. 36 Issue 3, P161-175. 36.3 (n.d.): 161-75.…/dEBATEACROSSTHECIRC.doc‎. By: Joe Bellon, Georgia State University. Web. 1 July 2013.
Bernier, Thomas. “The Benefits of Traveling.” N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013.
Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.
Teichert, C. “What Is Global Citizenship?” What Is Global Citizenship? N.p., 26 Nov. 2009. Web. 01 July 2013.
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