People, we have a problem.
We are surrounded by an abundance of misinformation. Worse, we willingly, hungrily gobble it up. And it’s changing our world. In my mind, it’s changing it in very scary ways.
The good news is, travel can be the antidote to a post-truth world.
Manipulation of information is nothing new. Heck, I’ve been in journalism, marketing and PR my whole career, so I’ve seen it on both sides.
To me truth has never been grayscale. But unfortunately there are many people who don’t agree, who are interested in manipulating or suppressing truth. Today, it’s an epidemic, largely spread by our dependence on technology. Anyone who can dismantle truth and construct their own version of it, can manipulate public opinion and exercise control over most people.
Control truth, and you have power over everything. You can increase the likelihood of sustainable profitability. You can reward shareholders. You can win elections. You can motivate people to do what is morally reprehensible. You can maintain power and control. You can change the course of the future.
When it comes to truth, the stakes are high.
In a post-truth world, it’s hard to know who and what to believe. So the truth is, we are all responsible for carefully monitoring the information we consume and share, holding accountable those who provide information, and digesting it all with a big, fat side of fact-checking.
Travel can help you do it. But first, you have to start at home.
Here are some ways you can determine truth, with the help of travel.
- Engage in a digital detox. Regularly. All of the internet is carefully manufactured to tap into your deepest feelings, to make you feel sad, angry, happy. Little, if anything on the internet is neutral. Realize that any website reaps rewards when you come back again and again. We are, sadly, like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating for the information that supports our point of view. Our internal reward system is triggered by the emotions we feel while looking at the internet, so we keep coming back.
By now, we also know our personal data is being used against us, to advertise to us, to drive us to certain behaviors and to manipulate our opinions. Being manipulated feels bad, right?
None of us wants to be a patsy.
So stop allowing it. Step away, and stop giving your personal data to those who wish to use it against you, stop posting and sharing. Step away, and stop forwarding things or “liking” things that may or may not be true. Step away from the machine that makes us fear one another. Step away from television, radio, social media and printed news.
Step away so you can sit in silence and figure out what you really think and feel, without the manipulation. Meditate if you can. Get out in nature. Reset your mind to zero.
Now it’s time to get to work.
- In the healing silence of disconnecting, when you feel emotions rise up within you in connection with thoughts, ask yourself, “Am I in soldier mindset or scout mindset?”
To better understand these concepts of soldier mindset and scout mindset, check out this amazing Ted Talk by Julia Gaief, “Why you think you’re right — even if you’re wrong.”
It’s well worth 11 minutes of your time.
It’s proven that our brains seek out information that protects our preconceived notions. What does that mean? We are likely to always believe what we believe today. So if your mind is set on unhealthy, limiting or hateful thoughts, you will continue to think that way. More, your brain will focus on the information that supports those notions, and discard information that challenges it.
Part of the magic of being human is our ability to reason and to change based on new information we receive. But you have to want that. We all have relatives who have clung to notions formed in childhood, until their dying day, in spite of information proving otherwise. Do you want to be one of those people?
It’s up to us to question and challenge what we believe. To do so requires us to be our highest selves.
- Develop a healthy level of suspicion. Yeah, don’t go all conspiracy-theory mad…which I know some of us are doing. Know that every stakeholder in every piece of information on the web or in the world stands to lose or gain something from the information shared, and how you ingest it, or share it. Ask yourself, “Who sponsored this study?” “Who is bankrolling this?” and “What do they stand to gain?”
It’s a huge responsibility, but everything is at stake. To be an ambassador of truth, double check any information before you share it, whether verbally, via email or on social channels. Fact check via Snopes. More, fact check what others are posting. Check whether the “news” sites you are reading and the “news” broadcasts you are viewing are reputable. Be aware that there is information out there to support any point of view, so when you look things up, look them up from all angles. Train yourself to know the difference between sponsored posts, advertising, editorials/opinions/commentary, and reputable news.
When reading blogs and websites, understand that anyone who uses affiliate links is being compensated for sharing that information, so it simply cannot be truly objective. While my blog currently has advertising on it, none of it is affiliated with me–Wordpress puts the ads on the site because I do not currently pay for this space. I make no money from this website, so you can always know that the information I’m sharing comes from a place of integrity and truth, to the best of my ability. Question the information you get from anyone with sponsors or affiliates. If a travel blogger or journalist receives free travel from a cruse line or destination, which often happens, take everything they say with a big grain of salt.
Occasionally getting something honestly wrong is an inevitable risk of the news business. Publishing something that you disagree with does not constitute information manipulation. Publishing something that is wrong, over and over, with the intention of manipulating public opinion is problematic, and we should all stop feeding the monsters who do it and the advertisers who support them.
- Now: TRAVEL. Travel and soak up the truth as you see it, through your eyes. Travel with scout mindset. Travel to learn and grow. Travel to discover. Travel to destroy the misinformation you’ve digested.
Travel to the places they’ve told you to be afraid of, and be open to seeing how lovely they are. (Certainly check State Department warnings, and always travel with knowledge of the associated risks of a particular region.) Fear is more often than not a product of the information you’ve consumed, and we know that information may be limited, leaning, or outright false.
Travel to the places they’ve told you are awesome, and be open to finding out that you just don’t like them.
Travel to the places populated with the people you’ve been told to distrust, the people you’ve read are “worthless” or “animals.” Stay in their homes if you can. Accept an invitation to eat with them. Talk with them about their truths. Be curious. Ask questions.
Gather information before forming an opinion. Learn to absorb information while traveling without judgement, knowing that we rarely have all the information to form an objective opinion. When you feel yourself reacting, stop and make a note of it. Step back and try to see the whole picture. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Understand that cultural differences are not necessarily bad, and they are often dependent upon resources or practicalities of a region and its people, which you may not be privy to.
The truth of what you experience in person is difficult for anyone to manipulate but your own mind. So we must police our own thoughts, think critically and be willing to be changed by what we see and hear and experience. If you enter into travel knowing yourself, and if you enter into every experience with scout mindset, you can discover truth through travel.
I cannot tell you how many times, in my travels, my preconceived notions of a people or a country have been challenged. It’s easy to form an opinion about an entire people when the narrative you’ve been fed has served to underscore that, or when you’ve had a personal experience with one individual who hurt or offended you.
I think of the time I stayed at an Airbnb with a man in Budapest, who treated me poorly. I’m still angered by it. At the time, I reached out to another Hungarian, with whom I’d stayed earlier, to see if he could accommodate me, and he couldn’t. A seed of distrust was planted.
About a year later, I traveled to Copenhagen and met the most beautiful, wonderful human being named Dory, a traveler from Hungary studying in the UK toward her master’s degree. She was sweet and kind and generous and funny. I thanked her, because she made me see my limiting beliefs in their infancy. She reminded me that people are people: some bad, most good. I knew this, but I definitely needed a reminder.
Generalizations are the opposite of truth. We must embrace the fact that human beings are nuanced and our world is complicated. Just as we wouldn’t want everyone to think we are like the political figures in our country with whom we disagree, we must fight the urge to believe that all people of one nationality, race, religion, gender, country, profession, or any social group are alike, in any way. And we must be suspicious of any individual or entity that tells us otherwise.
Dory is without a doubt one of my favorite people I’ve met on the road. She helped destroy a limiting belief that was forming within me. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a Dory to help us challenge our beliefs. Most of us have soldier mindset and are scrambling like heck to gather information that supports what we think is true. It’s hard to admit we’re wrong. It’s humbling to take a step back and ask, “Why do I believe this? Is it the truth?”
You are better, smarter and more thoughtful than you’ve been given credit for. But the work of finding truth begins with you. You must choose to actively challenge your limiting beliefs. Immersive travel can be your guide on the journey ahead.
How do you determine what’s true or not? How have you taken responsibility for knowing and sharing only the truth?
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Next stops: Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.