As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Travelling for Personal Growth Part II

This post is the second in a series of four posts that is accompanied by an article entitled “How to Change Absolutely Anything about Your Life in Ten Steps” that I published on eHow.com.

Where We Left Off

My previous post ended with asking whether any one of us knows the difference between what we can and cannot control and therefore change even in ourselves. In this post I’ll continue to reflect on that question and lead towards showing how the fresh and hopefully pleasant perspective given by travel can enhance one’s capacity for positive change.

The first thing to recognize is that the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes of our lives being completely within our control and completely in the hands of fate. The second thing to recognize is that it’s not a bad thing that the exact line where control ends and fate takes over is different for everyone and that we discover the location of that line for ourselves as we go along.

What I Saw as a Child

As a child I would observe others when their behaviour slipped out of the bounds of their control. Sometimes the person’s behaviour would cross the line into having them do something they would have preferred not to do without them even noticing themselves. Kids my age would cry when they fell and didn’t hurt themselves badly, and other kids would flinch or even kick up a fuss when they got needles in the nurse’s office even if they knew that they were far more sensitive to the ensuing ridicule from unsympathetic classmates. I watched with some detachment. Since I was always in complete control of my own behaviour I never wondered what I would do and what I would not do in any situation. Most of the time if I didn’t want myself to flinch or cry then I simply wouldn’t. If something did hurt enough to bring tears I would do so without worrying about how anyone else felt. I couldn’t understand people who ended up letting any emotion carry them away, whether anxiety, fear, or even happiness, so that they would end up doing things that their own good sense dictated they didn’t want to.

I was bewildered when as a child I read a story about crazy college kids who found themselves eating dog biscuits and then were later grossed out by the fact that they had. No other child I knew would want to eat a dog biscuit, yet by the sometimes drunken years of college, anecdotal evidence left no question that some of them would eat dog biscuits, swallow live goldfish, and much worse. That such behaviour was contemptible was an obvious and universal truth to my mind. I hated alcohol and wondered why someone would drink enough of the foul tasting stuff to allow themselves to act like they had no sense. I knew that I for one would never allow alcohol or anything else to encourage me to let such gross things pass my lips.

What I Discovered as the Grandson of a Rum Smuggler

However with the passing of childhood many truths that seem universal eventually reveal themselves as only being true from a particular point of view. The judgemental view that I had previously was obviously one of a non-drinker. The fondness that I inherited from my rum smuggling grandfather for Caribbean rum soon cured that.

In addition I was an inquisitive and contemplative youth for whom examining other points of view was second nature. If alcohol could cause dog biscuits and goldfish to be someone’s entertainment I would probably want to figure out why if I knew doing so wasn’t going to harm me. Admittedly the invincibility I felt as a young man and that fondness for a well crafted rum allowed even my cares about such harm to slide away. Feeling invincible and capable of accomplishing anything I felt no need to hide behind cares about potential harm to myself or for that matter felt any need to restrict my reasoning so that it would lead to safe conclusions. I began to deconstruct everything I believed. The revelation that even most universal truths are relative was inevitable and I found myself wondering how many things I never thought I’d do that I would end up doing in life.

Logical Relativism and the Disappearing Penguin

During the years leading up to my adulthood evidence began to mount in my own mind about where this logical relativism was leading me. When one is open to all conclusions one never knows where one’s conclusions might lead. Honest reflection brought me to face with the uncertainty that this kind of logical relativism had cast me into. Logic seems at the outset cut and dried but in the end it is entirely unpredictable. My favourite anecdote showing this comes from the comic strip “Bloom County” in which the character Oliver Wendell Jones beats Stephen Hawking to discovering an equation that explains everything. Oliver attempts to explain the equation to his friend Opus the penguin. Under closer examination however, the equation disproves the existence of flightless waterfowl and as Opus looks on with concern he sees his midsection begins to be erased, as if with a pencil eraser. Luckily Oliver discovers that he “forgot to carry the two” and corrects the equation so that Opus pops back into existence, concerned but only a bit dishevelled. In life as in comics, logic can lead an unpredictably far distance from the truth.

Flip-Flopping Between Extremes

The heart of youthful idealism is the firm belief that the world can be made to fit within the confines of logic rather than the confines of logic being only a small window of perspective on a much larger and largely illogical world.

I was definitely an idealistic young man who adhered to the logic of my convictions despite facts to the contrary. Believing for example that with every political issue you could identify a perpetrator (i.e. the villain), and a victim (i.e. the good guy), I strove to “educate” myself enough to be able to slice up world affairs that way.  But being completely open to any conclusion that was supported by facts, my opinion about who was the villain in any given situation would flip flop with every new piece of information I read.

The Bigger Picture Forms

Far from being in control of my opinions and conclusions, not even I myself could predict what those opinions and conclusions would eventually be. Furthermore this variability extended to my life in general. I myself had no idea what I would do and what I would not do. Like Oliver Wendell Jones in the comic strip it seemed that following my own logic could lead anywhere. Recognizing the flaws in a strict adherence to logic I was still powerless to look at the world from the alternate perspective, and that is one of faith. Despite forays in that direction I came to believe I was simply not made to understand the world in that way. But the years went on and with the further passing of time I eventually reconciled myself with the particular brand of uncertainty that a strictly logical world view brings. This reconciliation came when I recognized that even this unpredictability was a predictable part of my nature. If given options “A” and “B” I would like clockwork define an option “C” and choose that.

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2 comments on “Travelling for Personal Growth Part II

  1. The definition of a RUM Smuggler in the Caribbean in 1960 can be greatly misleading if read in North America in 2009. At the time in America there was prohibition … which meant that no one was allowed to have alcohol.

    In the 1960′s in Antigua it was no different.There is nothing wrong with taking a drink. What was labeled as smuggler was simply a fisherman who went to sea and would buy alcohol from a ship which was anchored in the sea because there was no deep harbour and the ship could not come near to the wharf. Of course the police were very upset at this practice and harassed the fishermen who engaged in it. I would hesitate in 2009 to paint these men with such a broad brush as Rum Smugglers since now everyone knows that a drink of alcohol can be helpful.

    [Reply]

    AndyEWilliams Reply:

    Thanks for the great history lesson. I agree that a drink can be healthy and that the prohibition of alcohol was wrong. I'm proud to saying that like Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty, my Grandfather was an entrepreneur who had the foresight to look past temporary injustices in the laws of man and do what he believed was his right to do. Like the late Joseph Kennedy, his legacy will live on amongst his descendants for generations to come.

    [Reply]

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