privilege, travel and learning what you don't know


“Let there be many windows to your soul, that all the glory of the world may beautify it.” — Ella Wheeler Wilcox

On Saturday evening, I'll be soaring over the Atlantic Ocean on my way to Munich for a layover before hopping on another plane to New Delhi.

Twenty-two days of travel in a country I've never been.

For anyone who reads that and assumes I'm flush with cash, I'm not.

I've known about this trip for a year, and have been throwing every scrap of money I could into a savings account to make this a reality.

Between cross-country travel and moving this year, I'm scraping the barrel on my bank account right now.

I do, however, have the immense privilege of a job that supports my personal development enough to let me leave for three weeks, friends and a partner who can take care of my dog while I'm gone, and airline miles gifted from my wonderful parents to supplement the flights.

I make a point to say that because the general assumption when seeing gorgeous Instagram photos or hearing about international travel is to assume, "They must have something I don't."

In this case, though, probably not.

Absolutely, I have a certain amount of privilege. I am incredibly grateful for my lot in life.

But if you also have the capacity and comfort to be reading this message on your own computer or or tablet or phone, you probably having a similar amount of privilege too.

I choose to make travel a priority.

I choose to keep the people who readily support me in my life, and I happily support them in turn every chance I can get.

I choose to work in an environment that affords me both workplace companionship and also flexibility.

I'm just a "normal" person in the western hemisphere, probably like you.

Maybe we just structure our priorities differently.

But do not mistake me: I do not take that prioritization and privilege lightly.

I know that where I am going, I will witness some of the most abject poverty I will ever lay eyes on.

Do my intentions for my travel count for something?

I do think my approach will affect my impact. But you don't know what you don't know.

In the past, I've carefully chosen not to travel to some countries like India because I didn't want my trips to be interpreted by others as poverty tourism.

Is my presence in this place its own kind of cultural appropriation—vapid drive-by gawking, only to later be respun from an American white woman's point of view in her tell-all spiritual memoir?

I sincerely hope not.

There is a huge amount of delicacy required in this type of experience.

Is my presence in this place helpful to others?

I hope so. But in general, I understand that my impact for positive change on this trip will likely be small. My aim in this case is to be impacted, not impactful.

I also understand the deeply disrespectful assumption that other countries require our western heroism. That is post-colonialism at its worst.

(I mean...have you seen the United States lately? We are not in any place to be telling other people how to live their lives...)

So why I am going to India at all, if I understand that my presence could be interpreted as damaging?

Because I absolutely believe we are here, on this earth, to open our hearts to the experiences of others.

To realize we are all worthy of love and to take our surface differences as lessons for our deepest sameness and humanity.

Empathy. Self-discovery. You cannot have one without the other.

It is not me who needs to teach on this trip.

I am showing up, wholeheartedly, to be taught.

My aim is to be deeply humbled by all that my usual life does not show me on a regular basis.

I neither want to overly romanticize nor falsely undervalue what India is and has.

But I do acknowledge that this change in perspective feels necessary for both my personal evolution and the eventual contribution I can have in my corner of the world.

Learning outside of your own experience is tantamount to living a wholehearted life, and there is only so much you can learn in your own day-to-day patterns.

Regardless of whether you feel them directly, what you do at home creates repercussions elsewhere. But you can only see those repercussions if you seek out new situations, new angles, new lenses that magnify cause and effect.

Consciously choosing new ways of being allows for new ways of seeing.

It doesn't have to be an international trip. But you do need to make choices that change the way you see yourself and the world from time to time.

Allow your perspective to shift.

Iris Rankin

Soulful questioner, exuberant organizer, here to find the balance between discipline and delicious relaxation. Iris Rankin is the founder of Project Intention, a values-based community focused on living day-to-day with purpose, planning, and heart. Iris encourages women to adopt the self care practices that make them feel divine, the planning tools to hone in on their essential wants and needs, and the emotional resilience to express their most authentic selves.

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