Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

What I’ve Learned (pt. 1)

This is likely the first entry in a series on the things I’ve learned about myself and human nature while on travel.

When I arrived here I didn’t know what to expect. Rachel had told me that I wouldn’t be able to know it. This trip wasn’t going to be a predetermined set of lessons. I should expect to learn, but what was to be learned would unveil itself at the right time. I knew she was right. This wasn’t really something I could prepare for. But still, you take guesses and try to predict. You think about the things you would like to learn, your shortcomings, and what you want to get out of a trip. I no longer remember what I was hoping for then, but I know some of the ways that it has affected me so far.

I am more outgoing.

I used to be very comfortable putting myself out there in positions where I felt comfortable. I could be myself around friends. I could be myself around myself. But once I was at a cocktail party or in public or in a strange situation with people I didn’t know, it was hard to make a move. I didn’t know what to go up to people and say to start off a conversation.

Solo travel does a strange thing for that. You have no one by your side to find comfort in, no one to give you that needed hit of human contact. And so if you want it you have to make it happen. If you are advanced, you just go for it. If you are still meek, you get to a point of desperation and jump for it. Either way, the end result is the same.

I’ve gained the ability to walk up to people and strike up a conversation. In a lobby. On a street. In an elevator. Other travelers. People whose English isn’t good. Locals. The more I’ve done it, the easier it has become. The odd thing is realizing just how easy it is to go up and start. You don’t need some grandiose line to impress them. You can try to complement their style. You can ask them a question you expect they’d have an answer to. But I’ve found that, “How you going?” or “So, how has your day been?” is plenty for people to respond.

Most of them respond in more than one sentence. That’s the weird thing. It is almost like everyone is so desperate for human contact that they’ll open up, at least superficially, to anyone who is willing to try.* But at the same time everyone is so locked into their own world of patterns and prescribed connections that they don’t strike out beyond this. All it takes is being the stranger to initiate and people give you real answers. They may not mean much on a soul-bearing level, but they matter. And that is just the start. If you respond in kind and ask the right follow up questions, people will bare their soul to you. I’ve had people tell me things they haven’t told their best friends. I’ve heard admissions of self-analysis and traumatic histories and painful emotional situations.

I have long hair, a pretty scraggly beard, and wear beat up old shirts and shorts, and strangers still open up to me. Imagine what connections you could find if you actually tried to look remotely respectable.

The whole thing reminds me of a seventh grade dance. Boys on one side of the gym. Girls on the other. No one willing to make a move. All it takes is that first kid to walk across the aisle, to ask the other to dance. That person gains the reputation of being the alpha. The answer is yes. And everyone else follows suit knowing that it is okay, someone else already tested the waters. I’ve seen this play out in party situations with daring behavior. I’ve seen it in drunken crowds. I’ve seen it in presentations and concerts. And it is echoed in how closed off we are in society. All it takes is the first step. People will respond.

* There are theses that could be based on the explanations of why. Is it innate human nature? Is it a function of living in a large city? Is it a result of our increasingly technologically-driven lives that is further isolating the individual from others? Is it the product of working behind a computer screen? Has it always been this way? Are people more open to foreigners in our modern multinational world? Does the foreign accent actually help because of anonymity? Does it hurt? Can I do this just as easily back home, or in other US cities? To what degree do country and social mores matter? Have I been lacking my needed frequency of intellectual discussions here? Have I had several recently that got my brain into this mode of intellectual curiosity?

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This entry was posted on February 29, 2012 by in Australia, Self Analysis, Victoria (Melbourne).

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