Dear Mr. Kristof and Associates,
I read about the competition to spend time out on the reporting trail and it struck me as a classic example of “why not?” A unique confluence of circumstances on the global scale and an intersection of personal values makes this a golden opportunity. My reasoning is two-pronged: because the fate of the developing world may very well be the fate of humanity, and because travelling is an intrinsic good. What I mean to say is that the world and I have both arrived at a crossroads and I do not intend to wait around while it goes on its way.
I am confident that you have come to the same conclusion—that the world is at a crossroads—or else your column would not exist. The world, by which I mean humanity, can act for the first time on a truly global scale. Globalization: my relationship with my neighbor grows ever more multidimensional due to fracture of identity between economic, religious, ethnic, and national boundaries and the increase of interdependency. Shall we choose to emphasize our differences or our common interests? My choice of words is central: it is a choice, and moreover one that shall largely be made by the people of my generation. We will have the capacity to change the world; the question is one of willpower, cooperation, and communication.
It is unlikely that Robert Zimmerman of the Black Hills would have become Bob Dylan, generational icon, if he had not travelled to New York, the most happening place in the world. Any individual who wants to understand the human experience in the twenty-first century shall no longer be able to ignore the least-privileged. The way that China handles its newfound power—the fate of African democracies—the reliance on oil for wealth in the Middle East—these are some of the issues paramount in determining the direction of humanity. The entire developing world is the New York City of the twenty-first century.
That is why I want to go to the developing world. But why anywhere at all? Difference exercises the self. Engulfing myself in an entirely different culture is a way to shed the ‘self’ presented at home and in doing so be forced to reassess what it is ‘I’ am or want to be. I am so willing to change because I recognize that change is a prerequisite for improvement. I liken this opportunity to Søren Kierkegaard’s idea of a leap to faith: only by exposing myself to new possibilities, with the foreknowledge that failure is possible, can I progress.
As an anthropology major I am readily aware, furthermore, of the extent of our differences but also of the fact that we cannot escape the bonds of our shared humanity. I think of this, both our differences and our commonalities, as a blessing, and this belief underlies the entirety of my worldview. Indeed, one application of sociocultural anthropology is to reach common ground by exploring difference and its origins.
Dylan provides rather a good metaphor for another of my reasons for curiosity in this venture. Until he began writing his own songs his potential was entirely unrealized. Today my work consists largely of academic ‘covers,’ reading the literature of the Western canon and reassessing arguments worn ragged from overuse. Until I acquire experience of my own—outside of the Western culture, and, therefore, as ‘new’ as possible—I may be resigned to playing the same old songs. The human potential won’t be maximized until everyone the world over is allowed to play their own songs.
Consider a dice on a table I am sitting at. From all I can see of it, it appears to be a rectangle with a dot in the middle, which could be interpreted as fulfilling any number of purposes. Obviously this is a very incomplete analysis—only by considering multiple perspectives can I learn the true nature of the dice. By taking a place elsewhere at the table, I approach Truth; only by disorienting myself can I hope to find my way. I am astonished by the fraction of the world yet revealed to me. I cannot wait to see what else there is to it.
Hayden S. Higgins