Before Empathy. The missing link.

I recently gathered with Denver’s creatives for a celebration of “Empathy”. This monthly gathering emanates social innovation, social change and the nature of our innate, human desire to establish empathy with one another. To find community.

With international travel and education, empathy has become a “buzz” word whose ubiquitous nature leaves us wondering what the word truly means. “Empathy” implies the ability to understand how someone thinks or feels. Realistically, it’s impossible to fully comprehend the inner-workings of another human being or another culture. The only story we ever truly know is our own.

Here’s the problem: We frequently delve into empathetic rhetoric without first asking ourselves the question, “Why am I here?”

How can we engage authentically with one another if we don’t initially understand, at least to some extent, our own purpose and truth? How can we pretend to “empathize” when we forget to take time to welcome stories and learn the tools necessary to actually listen to one another?

In an article by Stanford University, the author simultaneously encourages “service-learning” (read: doing for) and abhors the idea that Westerners travel to other countries to implement their own ideas (read: learn from)! The juxtaposition of thought leads me to surmise that as a whole, we are still grappling with the paradigm shift of “doing for” and “helping” to “learning from” and “collaborating”.

I have witnessed empathetic negligence in schools in the U.S. and within collaborative learning programs abroad. People are trying to do good, yet are impeded by predetermined agendas implemented by organizations and history. The classroom and education are victim to the bane of history as well. We know we have to engage students, engage with students and encourage students to do the teaching and the learning in a collaborative way. As educators, we have to relinquish expectations of a specific outcome and welcome ideas we never could have conjured ourselves. (Kudos to those educators willing to facilitate as opposed to teach!)

Even in the design-thinking education model, empathy comes first. But we’re missing something. We haven’t asked that preliminary, essential question: Why am I here?

Here’s the solution:

  • Ask yourself the question: Why am I here?
  • Learn how to listen effectively and create space to find cultural empathy. “Walk with” your community.
  • Be willing to shift perspective in order to collaborate and create change together.

Away 2 Be provides local and global platforms to ask “Why am I here?” We listen, we engage and we facilitate change from a sustainable, comprehensive foundation.

Whether involved in meaningful, international travel or educational innovation, take the time to follow these three steps. Though “empathy” may be inherently ironic, the initial steps we take to achieve it will benefit ourselves, our local community and our world.

 

 

 

6 of the World’s Most Peaceful Places to Travel.

The Cliffs of Moher—(From Doolin), Ireland

Approach the Cliffs of Moher from the trailhead in Doolin. You must do this. Ireland itself is home to some of the most spectacular vistas I have ever seen, but this particular journey surpassed the rest. I arrived to Doolin via ferry from the Aran Islands one sunny afternoon in late May. After vacillating between a pint at the pub and a trail run to see these oft-mentioned cliffs, I chose the latter. To the East, castle ruins, grazing sheep and stone walls as far as the eye can see. To the West, the Atlantic, with glimpses of the extremely tranquil and beautiful Aran Islands. Ocean waves crash below. A puffin pauses in the tall grass. I ran and marveled. And then I found this magical spot. There was a place just for me. The overwhelming beauty filled my heart until my eyes leaked. I sat there for minutes or hours. Try it. You’ll be happy you did.

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Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

These waters have healing powers. Really! It’s a magical place. La Laguna de Apoyo, 48 square kilometers, is a thermally-vented volcanic lagoon 45 minutes from Managua. To arrive, you will descend down a steep road, feeling as though you’re traveling beneath the earth to a place unlike any other. The San Simian Hotel is a bit off the backpacker-trodden path and is a welcome retreat laden with hammocks and monkeys swinging in the trees. (During a morning yoga session by the shore I looked up and monkeys were doing their own yoga moves above me!) The food is spectacular and Daniel will be sure to tell you stories of how it all came to be. Go for a moonlight swim or a morning dip. You will feel at peace no matter what you do.

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Backwater Tour—Kochi, India

From Kochi, reserve an all day backwater tour. I’m the type who likes to wander, explore, see what’s around each and every corner and this relaxing meander through the backwaters of India, let me slow down a bit. I did something else rather uncanny as I soaked in the views and the cool breeze: I napped and read on the boat! Some were inclined to chat, but the mood was calm, relaxing and most certainly peaceful.

backwater

Kabak Beach—Turkey

While other tourists on the bus South from Fethiye will decide to get off at Olundeniz, you, my friend, will choose to go a bit further. To a beach that will remind you of “The Beach”. The last stop on the bus line, Kabak Beach is worth the extra distance. You may choose to take the steep trail about 30 minutes down to the relatively secluded beach you can see from above, or ride along the bumpy, dusty road in a local jeep for hire. Whatever you decide, you will be thrilled to be on Kabak Beach. There’s a “hippy vibe” and a certain camaraderie between you and others who have discovered this gem. Stay at Sea Valley Bungalows, small wooden cabins that are a great deal for the location (and the Turkish breakfast is divine). Hike 90 minutes to Paradise Beach on a trail that parallels the Mediterranean Sea. Or sit and eat. And drink. And soak in your great fortune.

kabak II

Loukas Taverna—Samos Island, Greece

It may seem strange to put a restaurant on this list, but in this place, atop a mountain accessed by a winding road through a white village, I couldn’t take the smile off my face. The view was stunning. The staff welcomed us as family. The food, delicious. Order the grape leaves. And the french fries. Stay awhile. Be Greek.

greece grape leaves

My parent’s house—Vermont

I’d love to tell you more, but this one will have to remain my private gem. There are some spots we have to keep to ourselves.

Peace. How to find it.

My culminating assignment in college was a paper written in both Spanish and English about perspective and the world between reality and fiction. I conspired with Hume, empathized with Rockwell and sought to live in Borges’ world of Tlön. I concluded the precious space in between is where peace transpires.

Today we celebrate the International Day of Peace. This is a day designated to honor what is good and who is doing good in this world. We recognize war and injustice while preserving hope in those capable of shifting the paradigm from fear to empathy.

Living in the mystery and the unknown, I’ve been told, is one of my geniuses. I enjoy the sheer frustration of knowing that I don’t. I find myself in perpetual in betweenness, with an insatiable curiosity of people and the world. I am frequently found between countries, cities, and ideas, and in those places, Away 2 Be was born.

Away 2 Be facilitates personal, local and global connections by eliminating the often-uncomfortable in between. We are the bridge between you and yourself, you and your local community, staff, and team, you and the world. Through yoga, consulting and facilitation sessions and meaningful journeys abroad, Away 2 Be enables you to connect authentically and perpetuate peace within yourself and all that surrounds you.

To Hume’s pre-determinism, Rockwell’s bell pepper and Borge’s land between the mirror and the self, I humbly accept this challenge of shifting our current perspective and I invite you to join me on the journey. Away 2 Be was created as a conduit for change, for connection and above all, peace.

How will you create peace today and beyond?

 

 

 

From a far to Afar

This is a letter written in Mumbai this summer to Afar Magazine, another company who seems to have the tools and the vision to make meaningful travel possible for those who desire it.  (Response pending.)

Dear Afar magazine,

This is the current scene: A rooftop restaurant post-sunset.  The yellow, red and blue boat hulls in the harbor have that perfect, saturated glow as if to kiss this day adieu.  Incessant horns seem far away now, resonating stories below and hoping to ease their tired voices soon.  Birds squawk.  Heads nod.  This is Mumbai.

I am writing you simply to say, thank you. You embrace all that is this world in a few matte pages filled with colors and words and stories authentically portraying the beauty and the veracity of the variety that abounds on this planet.  You show us the elaborate and engage with the socially conscious.  You encourage travel, not through a window, but through fresh eyes, new perspective and meaningful interactions.

The first thing friends ask me when I return to the US is, “When are you leaving?”  The sincere inquiry enables me to reflect on a life I have stumbled into; one of wonderment and “wanderment” and one whose great fortune cannot be denied. 

In seventeen years of international travel, I have been welcomed into Maasai bomas in Kenya and ventured on Hedzabe bush hunts in Tanzania.  I was embraced by Rwandans, shared tea with the Turkish, ate roti and masala on the floor of Indian homes and stared back at the cui on my plate as I celebrated the earth in Peru.  Nicaragua has become a home for me and Spain will always have a piece of my heart.  My travels have been vast and intimate, adventurous and soulful, alone and surrounded by others, chaotic and tranquil, spontaneous and purposeful.  And one certainty prevails: benevolence exists no matter where I wander.  Around the world, requited smiles shatter walls built with the mortar of language and fear.

I founded a small business, Away2Be.  We facilitate innovative education, and interpersonal and intercultural connection through local and global relationships.  First and foremost, we encourage the connection with self through yoga and reflection.  Secondly, we engage in meaningful conversations with educators, students, local leaders and corporate clients alike about global issues, leadership, interpersonal relationships and effective communication.  We travel abroad and walk with and learn from the people of the world. We believe sustainable, global change depends on the power of these relationships and personal stories are the pathway to peace.

Because our values align and because I so appreciate all you do, I write you this message.  I would love to collaborate and communicate with you further.  I am based in Denver, though probably spent about 8 months away last year!

Let’s continue this work of traveling deeper together! 

Namaste!

Susan Lambert

Owner, Away 2 Be

www.away2be.com

Birds fly as a young traveler walks home in Mumbai, India. Meaningful travel abroad brings us closer to home.

Gateway of India