Archive | December, 2011

Challenges that Occur When You Meet the Locals

This post is in direct response to the latest thought provoking guest post by Andy Jarosz, owner of the 501 Places, on the Local Travel Movement Blog. The original article,  When Local Cultures Aren’t So Great, can be found here.   I thank you Andy for raising this topic and hope it will stimulate sustained discussion as, to me, it’s core to the topic of Conscious Travel. Parts of Andy’s post are repeated here in blue; my comments are in black.

Source: Andy Jerosz & Local Travel Movement

Travel exposes us to many strange sights and experiences. By setting foot beyond our own borders we might explore palaces and temples that we’ve seen before in movies; we might meet people of races we’ve never encountered and see their colourful national dress; we’ll probably hear many languages that we don’t understand.

Most of our experiences are overwhelmingly positive and reinforce for us the value of expanding our horizons through travelling. But what of those moments when we see things that make us very uncomfortable, or even angry? How do we react when we come face to face with those practices and local traditions that we view as morally wrong, yet have persisted for many centuries? ……. (In the original post, Andy cites two examples of culture shock at the place in his article)

How does one challenge such deep-rooted beliefs and hope to create a change? Or is it in fact our place to challenge these practices at all? Do we accept that we are witnesses to practices and behaviours that are derived from many generations, and that as witnesses we have no power other than that of observation?

Some will argue that observation without action makes us complicit in the wrong that is done. Others will say that by informing ourselves at first hand of some of the physical and mental abuse that takes place in the name of culture, we can become advocates for change and perhaps influence enough people to make a lasting difference.

Whatever the answer, there is no doubting the power of our travel experiences in exposing us to the many beliefs and value systems that exist throughout the world. What we do with those experiences is another matter altogether.

For me to frame a response to these deep questions, I had to define for myself what a society is and I came up with the following

Societies are groups of people who have shared a common geography (place) and history (time) and developed a culture i.e., a way of “making sense of their world” that works. This culture is based on a set of shared assumptions often called a worldview or paradigm.

A few decades ago there were many opportunities for travelers to experience “culture shock.”  (I refer to my first time in a Desticorp post here).  But with every year that passes there are fewer opportunities for such transformative encounters. Wade Davies, the Canadian ethno-botanist, has suggested that we are losing at least one unique culture approximately every two weeks.

Is it irony or a simply inevitable result of the “law of scarcity”  that we’re witnessing a rise in interest in local travel and a growth in the demand for “immersive cultural experiences” just at the point when most exotic cultures are being rendered  extinct?

Ideally the purpose of travel is to become aware that one’s own worldview is not the only one or necessarily the “right” one. If a traveler recognizes that then the term conscious travel will be well and truly justified for it will have caused the traveller to wake up and perhaps start to examine the unexamined assumptions that shape his or her perceptual filters.

Supposing your culture had lived in harmony with the natural world for thousands of years but was transported to a North American city out of the Amazon jungle, and perhaps Annie Leonard’s A Story of Stuff was translated into your native tongue so you could understand the local culture. Chances are that you would quickly form a judgment that our culture was highly destructive as it caused its citizens to fall into some form or trance or madness. Supposing too that your Amazonian culture had the power to turn off the electrical grid and you took action out of a desire to help right a wrong. You may have had the best of intents but were likely oblivious to the impact of such a seemingly curative act. Not surprisingly resistance by the local “natives” would have been fierce.

I support the Local Travel Movement because, by respectfully meeting and engaging with “locals,” (people whose perception of reality is different than ours), we can be woken up from the trance of our own culture – we can become conscious.  And this surely, is the deeper purpose behind travel. For all cultures are just that – a form of trance; a set of agreements that hold our collective worldview together. In short, local travel provides opportunities for us to become conscious and that has to be its biggest gift.

So as travelers to exotic communities, it would be wise to spend more time observing and understanding than judging and tampering – before taking well meaning action that righteously but unwittingly can unravel a complex cultural web we can poorly understand.


Be Inspired: Join a Movement – try Conscious Travel

There are some words such as those in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech that will inspire listeners whatever the time or era. Paul Hawken’s commencement address to the Class of 2009 at the University of Portland is another.I’ve reproduced it below but it was found on the excellent Global Mindshift blog here.

While it was delivered to graduates before entering the world of work, it can also inspire work-weary managers and business owners. It’s especially relevant to people working in the travel community as we can play such a key role in making the transition so needed by Planet Earth.  Because, dear fellow members of the global travel community, our task is no less than this:

1. To wake up to the fact that the biggest shift in human perception is taking place right now given there is no guarantee it will take place fast enough to avoid our extinction as a species. It’s up to each of us to become awake, aware and alert, to tell ourselves the truth of our situation & accelerate that shift. Every other sector of society is having a deep and open discussion about the need to profoundly “re-think” the way it operates – travel and tourism must do the same (see the WorldShift Council and their insightful alternative to the G-20 Declaration) .

Note: this is NOT to say that fantastically inspiring change is not taking place throughout the tourism community by individuals and many groups – just look at the latest round of Responsible Travel Awards or GreenTravelGuidesTV with their stories of operators and destinations doing things differently. All I am saying is that the rationale and thinking behind these efforts needs to be front and centre in all tourism planning and decision making and, sadly, many DMOs still consider these thoughts as fringe and continue to set volume growth targets that make no mention of the costs associated with their ambitious targets.

2. To grow up – crises help all people mature and we need to move from adolescence to full adulthood by asking not what our communities should do to help tourism but what travel & tourism can do to help our communities (for more, see here). Former entrepreneur and now respected futurist John Renesch has applied his thinking about the need to mature in his new book: For more, read John Renesch’s New book: The Great Growing Up or listen to his recent podcast on Conscious Leadership.

Shaping and implementing a vision for a spiritually fulfilling, socially just and environmentally sustainable version of travel should be on everyone’s agenda. The venues run by people in travel and hospitality are the hubs in any community and their operators can be the true connectors. It’s through connections that places and people become smart and create the conditions for innovation and creativity. It’s through being exposed to worldviews or ways of perceiving, which differ from our own,  that help us wake up to the fact that our paradigm is one of many and can change. There is no reason or appeal to be just the writers of invitations or silent pourers of coffee. Tourism operators can become active change agents and find real purpose and meaning in their daily work as well by actively protecting, preserving and rejuvenating precious cultures and ecosystems.

3. To live up to our potential. It’s taken 13.5 miliion years to produce the species “homo sapiens” that is now aware of and can control its own evolution. What we do with that power is now up to each of us. It’s also taken 13.7 billion years to produce the amazingly diverse landscapes and cultures on which tourism depends so we have no right to sell them off at discounted prices while failing to steward, protect and care for them.

The act of waking up means recognizing that those of us who are alive today are participating in the greatest evolutionary shift that has ever occurred on the planet. For the first time in history of this planet a species is now participating consciously in its own evolution as a species and our decisions will determine the fate of many other life forms as well. But we are not helpless – we do have access to infinite wisdom and intelligence; but it will take a shift in mindset and perception and daily practice to access the bounty within each of us. That’s why the Conscious Travel movement is different (not better) because we start with the inner world and potential of the person running a tourism business and work from the inside out.

(c) Delicioustoys.de

4. To open up. The travel community must now seek to engage with and support all other members of the planet. It’s time to break down the invisible walls that deny our own embededness with all sectors of society and economy and our utter dependence on a healthy biosphere. It’s time to stop maintaining our differences or pleading that we are a special case with rights but instead focus on the  key role we can  play in creating a better world. And that will mean shifting our perception from a competitive “I,” who wins while another loses, to a collaborative “we” who co-create the innovative responses to the challenges we now face.

5. To step up. Our ubiquity and our size,  combined with our embeddedness in all aspects of what is now a global economy (“tourism is everybody’s business”), enable us to become effective agents of change, the midwifes of this transition. Our purpose (the higher purpose of tourism)  is to heal, to connect and to revitalize that deep sense of wonder and awe of Nature that re-connects human beings with their source.  People – yes the human beings working in the travel community – are in the best position to inspire our guests to make the shift but only if we  shed our tendency to see sacred places as products (objects) and our customers as walking wallets (more objects).

6. To meet up. The biggest paradigm shift that’s taking place right now is the recognition of our inter-connectedness and our interdependence. That shift combined with the connectivity made possible by current technology are enabling us to increase the pace of learning and innovation but the potential of that will only be realised if we also shift from actions based on collaboration to actions based on cooperation. 99% of enterprises in tourism are small.We have to work together in our communities to co-create a vision for tourism that does more harm than good. Change will not occur because self or institution-made leaders with titles write declarations but because ordinary men and women, in community, decide to do things differently. Change will start and emerge from the bottom up; from the grassroots – see: Grassroots Tourism Article, and follow the Local Travel Movement started by visionaries WHL.

Back in 1995, when I wrote the paper Shifting Gears1995, I expressed these beliefs in a slightly less radical and strident way. Like other “cultural creatives” I felt alone. But I was far from alone – a few years ago, they estimated that the global population of cultural creatives numbered some 20 million and now its 200 million. Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest written some five years ago demonstrates the nature of grassroots change that is taking place if you have eyes to see it.   And thanks to the Occupy MOvement is hard to ignore!

So even if you do not yet agree with the rationale for change, please take five minutes to read Paul Hawken’s more eloquent words below and then re-visit the list above. If you share this perspective, please “like” this post; better still comment or share with colleagues. Most importantly join a “change movement” – whichever works for you. And, of course, it would be great if you’d keep us company here!

Paul Hawken’s Commencement Address
Class of 2009, Portland University

Paul Hawken

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” No pressure there.

Let’s begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

“…the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.”

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote,

“So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” Adrienne Rich

There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

“YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING”

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider.

“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,”

is poet Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

“Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.”

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

“We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells.”

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

……….

Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May, when he delivered this superb speech


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