Walt is right

Malacca 2

Walt (someone I’ve known so long, I don’t even remember when we met – we have pictures from grammar school) recently send me a link to an article about research that shows intelligence is enhanced by travel.

This is so true, I could not only write a blog on this topic, I could write a 10-volume encyclopedia.

I have traveled ridiculously much.  One year I was gone for 10 months straight.  When I traveled I always had house sitters or friends staying at my house to take care of the cats and everything else.

One night when I was back from my travels for a short bit and was taking the trash down my hill to the street, I ran into my neighbor from across the street who was taking her trash out at the same time.  She saw me and she asked, “Oh! You’re new!  Are you staying in Ingrid‘s house?”  I burst out laughing and said, “I am Ingrid!”  She stared at me bug-eyed and said, “I never thought I’d actually meet you!”  I moved into my house 5 years earlier and she’d never seen me.  That’s when I realized how much I had been traveling.

I wanted to do all that travel.  I wanted to see the world, see everything, experience everything first-hand.  I found the best way to get to know a country and a culture was to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the people.  I received an education that I would have never glimpsed as a tourist.

We’ve delivered our programs in 30 countries now.  I haven’t traveled to all of them, but to many.

And Walt is right.  So right.  All that travel made me much more intelligent about people, about life.

I’m going to give you an example. It was a perfect full moon in Malacca, Malaysia.  I was eating dinner with my students outdoors, right on the water, the gentlest of warm breezes soothing the world.

My students were very beautiful, gentle people. Exquisite manners, kind.  Warm. They smiled a lot, big, genuine, sincere, smiles. Their kind of kindness is unusual in the corporate world.  It makes you melt.

They were the hourly workers of a very large multinational corporation headquartered in Silicon Valley, a headquarters they had never seen but only imagined.

While we were having dinner I found out they lived in little villages nearby and none of them had been more than 15 miles away from where we were sitting at that moment.  Although they were in their 30’s or close to it, none of them had traveled any further than that.

I couldn’t even think with that. By the time I was 30 I had traveled the USA extensively, even to South America and Europe.  I couldn’t imagine what life would’ve been like if I had lived it all within 15 miles.

So I asked them, what is it like? They said it was all about their families. They had BIG, beautiful families and there was always something happening, especially around their meals which were always celebrations. They all got together every day and talked and shared their lives. They celebrated every little thing that happened to each of them. Even the littlest things.  They venerated their elders and were grateful to see them every day.

I asked them if they had any urge to travel and they said No, they were perfectly happy where they were, they enjoyed their lives immeasurably, their lives were full of interest and love.

I realized I was talking to people who had more love in one day than most people have in a year. They were surrounded by people who cared about them, were interested in them, helped them, people they cared about people they were interested in, people they helped. They had completely full, rich, completely satisfying lives.

The incredible joy in their faces as they talked about their families floored me.

I would’ve thought that living life in a 15-mile radius would’ve been confining, but for them it was liberating.  It liberated all the joy, love and meaning anyone could possibly want.

They looked so much happier than all the people I’ve ever seen in an airport traveling to anywhere. They look so much happier than people look anywhere. It was sincere and deep, genuine, solid 24-karat gold happiness.

What I learned that evening! I truly was astonished.  I spent a lot of time thinking about it.  And then I realized. You can create circle of friends and family that makes you that happy, that is that rich with communication, laughter, caring, helping, love.

When I was in Lithuania, my home country, one of my father’s closest friends called me “rootless” because I was always traveling, always moving, always going somewhere. The word rootless doesn’t sound so bad in English, but in Lithuanian it sounds DREADFUL.

That lovely, moonlit evening in Malaysia, for the first time, I understood what he meant.  He also probably never traveled more than 50 miles from his home and had very deep roots into his family and the humanity around him.

It’s just that these people made the most of what they had and took it to a height that many of us never achieve. They had goals and dreams, but they were truly rich and happy living them where they were, with what they had.

I realized you can do this wherever you are, whether or not you travel.

If I hadn’t seen it firsthand, I don’t think I would’ve known it was possible.  I realized the depths of joy available right now if we just reach out and create it right now. That dinner conversation in Malacca, 8,500 miles from my home, changed my life forever.

I travel some now, not as much.  I love having roots now.  I know my neighbors and love them.  I have traditions and rituals with friends that we do over and over again in our neighborhood.  We experience new joy each time.  I love our rituals.  I’m very content with my 15-mile radius. It is a rich one.

Walt is right.  The intelligence we gain from traveling can’t come from anywhere else.

May both your travels and your 15-mile radius open your eyes to new intelligence that fills your life with new things to believe in, new love.



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