Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Effects of Traveling

Now, I am a huge fan of traveling and seeing the world, despite my limited travels. I have many friends whom I both respect and admire who also swear by traveling and seeing the world.

But two great men whom I hold in high regard say things to the contrary: GK Chesterton and Adam Smith.

"I have never managed to lose my conviction that travel narrows the mind." - What I Saw in America CW 21:37 GK Chesterton

Adam Smith mentions in the Wealth of Nations that parents send their children to study abroad when "they become tired of watching them deteriorate before their eyes and send them to deteriorate before someone else's"

I'm still pondering this disjunct. What are your thoughts?

Here are some further reflections on the topic that may answer the question, I think they do to my mind.

Two thoughts that might serve as an answer:

1) In Chesterton's essay "On certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family" he warns against travel as a means of escaping real life and the richnesses therein. I quote, "[the escapist traveler] can visit Venice because to him the Venetians are only Venetians; the people in his own street are men. He can stare at the Chinese because for him the Chinese are a passive thing to be stared at; if he stares at the old lady in the next garden she becomes active. He is forced to flee, in short, from the too stimulating society of his equals - of free men, perverse, personal, and deliberately different from himself... They do not seek to destroy his principles and assert their own; the stranger monsters of the suburban street do seek to do this." Thus, it seems as long as one is grappling with reality and the harshness on one's neighbor, travelling would merely help in the pursuit of that task. But you have to be careful that it is not an escape from the duty of living.

2) When in doubt refer to Hobbits; they are an everlasting wellspring of commonsense and wisdom. Most Hobbits did not see the need/reason/desire for travelling further than the bounds of their own Shire. Even Bree was a distance that only few Hobbits breached. However, that was one extreme in the story. The other extreme was Gandalf, the Wandering Wizard and while he is arguably the best character in the trilogy, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin feel almost sorry for him as he "has no place to rest his head." Indeed, one of the major differences between Saruman and Gandalf is their respect for the homely lifestyle of the Hobbits. I think the exemplar of the middle route (as well as many other elements in the story) is Sam. He loves home, deeply, and it is only love that can bring him to part with it. He is grounded in the domestic: gardening, beer, old men. At the same time he has a deep wonder of the outside world. He is not escaping from something at home; he (for love of Frodo) is exploring the wonders of the world in wonder while pursuing a specific task of great import. He learns to love the outside world as well, but only in juxtaposition to the inside world of the Shire that remains his deepest love. This, to me, is the real focus of travel, not only to have a sense of wonder in seeking out the richness and beauty of the world, but also to appreciate the home and the domestic that much more in contrast.

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