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“Let’s just chill for a little bit,” I’d say to my ever patient wife. We’d lean back, sip on the local brew, be it coffee or tea or beer or coconut, then the people-watch marathon would start without a predefined end.

From one cafe to the next (if possible), meeting and talking to whomever might be around us: that’s how I like to travel. Throw in a few sights here and there and that’s the perfect recipe for a  great trip.

I tend to infuriate traveling friends whose mission is to check off as many things from the “list” as possible. Some of them have an acute fear of missing out. For me, I fear moving too fast and not having the time to feel the energy of the environment, to hear the music in the air, to see the human interactions of those who live there, and to understand more about the culture I’m in. This is important to me because I’m constantly looking for myself, for an evolved form, one that understands a little more about the world than the previous self. It’s a learning process.

I’ve intently watched a mother doting on her son in Peru, a boisterous family having dinner in Dubrovnik, a group of good samaritans giving leftovers to an old homeless man in Shanghai, partiers dancing the night away New York, sport fans cheering on their hometown team in Seattle, outdoors enthusiasts marveling the vast landscapes at Banff National Park in Canada, businessmen and women hustling to work in Tokyo, locals enjoying a slow Sunday morning in Mexico, an elderly lady paddling her simple boat back home from the Floating Market in Thailand, and so many more such instances.

These examples offer nothing dramatic. Nobody did anything extraordinary. At least, nothing to write home about. But these simple moments provide a common thread for which we can all attach our string to create the web of the human experience. I’ve concluded, after years of idly sitting and watching other humans go about their lives, that the vast majority of people (if not all people) share common bonds irrespectively of their environmental makeup such as religion, ethnicity, political leaning, and etc.

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First, ordinary people everywhere desire peace. Do you think the Syrian people asked for war? You don’t think that every day, those Syrian refugees, whose tattered lives wrought by the savages of war, wish for peace so that they may go home and rebuild? If war suddenly broke out in your city, wouldn’t you want it to end as soon as it started?

Second, ordinary people everywhere need the same basic necessities: a roof over their head, food on the table, clean water, and an opportunity to better their lives. Don’t you?

Third, people feel pain and happiness the same way everywhere, and people pursue happiness with as great fervor as they do to avoid pain. A mother losing a son feels the same anguish in Ethiopia as one in Norway. They might show it differently, but inside they suffer the same sting. Wouldn’t you?

Finally, people want to do good. They inherently do. The environment might define what that “good” is differently from one place to another. The vast majority of people don’t want to take another person’s life nor do they want to trample on your happiness. I’m sure you don’t want to trample on theirs either.

I am offering a very simplistic roll-up of very complex human experiences, not to blatantly generalize everyone into the same bucket, but to present an argument against the division and nationalism that are playing out around the world.

We spend so much of our lives distinguishing ourselves from one another in a never-ending quest to find our “identity.” Me, too. But, the very basis of mankind is that we are born from the very same “ether” – whatever that means to you. If God created man, then all men are created by God, not just men in this country or that country. If Mother Earth created man, then all men are created from Mother Earth, not just men from this region or that region. So whatever that “ether” is to you, wouldn’t you agree that we all came from it? And from that “ether”, etched in the human experience (as we define it today), we share the same common bonds as I’ve listed. We have more in common than we can believe.

Going back to my people-watch examples, I’ve noted that they’re not very extraordinary. It’s quite mundane but a simple bond that we all share. None of that will make the news. The media at large has no interest portraying ordinary people doing ordinary things – it’s not good for business. If I were a media company, I wouldn’t, either.

To gain more viewers, the content needs to be extraordinary: extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Unfortunately, those extraordinary things are often horrific acts. And when you are bombarded day after day with the same horrible news and images, you start to paint a grim picture of the world, of a people, of a region, and etc. And when such a picture is finished, fear would have permeated to your very core.

But, let me counter by saying that the mundane common ground which we all share is not the exception, it is the vast majority. And when I say “vast majority”, I mean 99.9999%. What I’m trying to argue is this: Don’t let the highlights of the few become the colors for which your picture of the world is painted. The color wheel, much like the human experience, is comprised of every color our eyes can see. Don’t be fooled into using just a few of them.

We don’t need more wars (internally, externally, emotionally, physically, psychologically) in this world. We need unity as a human race to solve worldwide problems and give every human being an opportunity to find happiness.

Travel on, my friends.

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Reading time: 5 min
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Like clockwork, my body wakes itself at 6:55 AM every morning, 5 minutes before the 7 AM alarm goes off and the subsequent “In My Memory” tune plays to welcome the day. I’ve learned to cherish those 5 minutes like the blood that flows through my veins. Somehow, it always feels like that “extra” time would last forever and the dreaded morning drive to work would never come.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy what I do. At 31, I’m finally hitting my stride at work. At the end of the day, I feel personally responsible for bringing every person who takes to the sky home safely. Isn’t the feeling of making a real difference a hallmark of a “good” job? I suppose it is, but 9 years into my career, I’m at a fork in the road with what seems like 20 paths I could take, and each one drastically different than the other.

The easiest and safest path to follow would be the one most taken: stay the course and retire 25 years from now as one of those career old timers. I could further my skills in engineering or even try my hands at management, sales, or join the corporate ranks. But there’s something about that morning drive to work that seems to deflate my enthusiasm before I get to the door, slowly chipping away at the stone of motivation, as do waves on a rocky shore.

Should I quit to live out my days watching palm trees on a hammock somewhere in the Caribbean? This pervasive thought always seems to find its way with the second cup of coffee after lunch. Perhaps the nagging feeling would be remedied if company-sanctioned naps were implemented, or perhaps it’s the finality and certainty of the career life that frightens me the most. Life would certainly throw its curveballs here and there, but this is it. This is what I’ll be doing for the next 25 years. The thought is truly scary.

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Reading time: 7 min
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When I was around 15, I decided to go on a youth group trip. I’d been with them before and had a fun time, but this was the first time I would go to Fall Creek Falls, a beautiful state park in east Tennessee. They had planned a day when we would kayak down the Hiwassee river, which sounded like a blast to me because I’ve always loved all things water and swimming. The Hiwassee is known to be slow-paced and easy for beginners, but our youth group leaders recommended not getting in the water as the river was shallow and had sharp rocks at the bottom. Looking back, I think they just told us this so we wouldn’t get out of the boats, but we believed them nonetheless.

the Hiwassee River and its menacing sharp rocks

the Hiwassee River and its menacing sharp rocks

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Reading time: 4 min
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