Saturday, March 2, 2013
The Undiscovered Country
I have just been reading some travel writing for assessment, and I realize what an unaware, half-asleep traveler I have been during my lifetime. Perhaps, indeed, that I have spent my life half asleep.
I tend to spend a great deal of time inside my head, and, therefore, probably miss much of what goes on around me. For that reason, I probably do not dig very deeply into the people and events that I see. This is not an ideal thing for someone who claims to be a writer, least of all, one who claims to write about “real people” in “real life” situations.
The particular manuscript I have been reading opened my eyes to a part of the world about which I know very little, except from news reports: North Africa and the Middle East. When I travel I tend to stick to safe places, not too far beyond my own culture and comfort zone. I’ll be honest and admit that I do not consider myself to be a very courageous person; and I like comfort. Having read this manuscript I am not inspired to change this aspect of my personality; rather, it has made me more aware of some things about myself. There is, in fact, a great deal more going on around me even here, where I live, than I am usually aware of. It is easy to take things at face value, to assume that what we see is what we get. In my more enlightened moments I am acutely aware that this is not the case. I am a little cynical about human beings. A little? A lot, actually. What you see is rarely, if ever, what you get. And the more people claim this about themselves, the less I am inclined to believe it. Nevertheless, knowing or believing this does not necessarily provide me with any insights about what is actually there, below the surface.
The same is true of a culture. What shows above the surface is only a tiny part of what is actually there. There have been times when I have presumed to know what that underbelly is within Australia, without really taking the time to seriously study it. This is true of my very own culture, here, now, today. How much more difficult it is to know the “truth” of another culture! I admire the person who wrote the manuscript I have been reading; not because she managed to get it all “right”, but because she had the courage and took the time to look and listen. And not only to look, but to expose herself to the potential hazards of living inside that culture (or those cultures – one of the things that is clear is that there is not one single culture in that part of the world), at least for a time. Sometimes I wonder whether I have even taken the time to live within my own culture.
I do not feel the urge to rush away to some hazardous overseas milieu and expose myself to danger. There remains enough here to discover, I begin to realize. I think that a haze has covered my eyes. I have become lazy, assuming that I pretty well know it all now. I therefore interpret what I see through this haze, this filter. I now fit my new experiences into the framework of my old world view. Perhaps it is time to permit my new experiences to change that worldview. It is time to take another look at this undiscovered country.