You don’t have to go out the door
to know what goes on in the world.
You don’t have to look out the window
to see the way of heaven.
The farther you go,
the less you know.
So the wise soul
doesn’t go, but knows;
doesn’t look, but sees;
doesn’t do, but gets it done.
We have a tendency to mythologize travel and experiences gained doing so. But Lao Tzu makes a case against the necessity of traveling the world in order to understand it.
It’s worth noting, here, the differences between the current world and the ancient one. Travel now is much easier, which may actually do less for opening our eyes to the world than it would have even a few decades ago.
I disagree, here, with Lao Tzu. I think travel is absolutely essential to understanding who we are. I don’t mean that in a personal sense, but in the sense of our species. I think our humanness depends on our ability to understand the world beyond our culutres, and even beyond our experiences.
Lao Tzu makes the latter point. That to know a people is to know all people. I think that makes sense, in a general way. The act of travel changes nothing. And if you’re uncurious at home, you’ll likely remain so abroad. If you think travel will teach you more about yourself, you’re sure to be disappointed as well.
Trading skies won’t change who you are. It’ll just make you aware of yourself in a new context.
Sometimes that’s important, but I don’t really think it is.
It’s silly for me to sit here and advocate for not traveling, since I’ve spent so many years traveling and enjoying it. But traveling taught me nothing about myself that I couldn’t have learned from staying home. It did, however, teach me about nationalism, about patriotism, about jingoism. Those are lessons worth learning, and I think stepping outside of your home country tells you far more about your country than anything else.
I was thinking about patriotism just this morning, and what a silly, violent notion it is.
But, yes, so I think travel is essential to one type of learning. But it is less likely to change your personality or who you are as a human. Those lessons can come right in your own town.
I also think it’s true that the farther you go, the less you know. Or rather, you become aware of how ignorant you are of so many things. The world opens up but not necessarily to you. You look at new cultures and find resistance because they are not yours. They did not shape you.
How you react to that is interesting.
But sometimes the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. And endless chasm of knowing and unknowing.
So travel. Travel wide and far. But also look inward, to yourself. Come to know who you are.
Knowledge is a form of resistance, and the Tao Te Ching is, I think, fundamentally a text of resistance. Of change. Of creating new ways.
And the first step is often understanding who you are. You cannot change the world if you don’t first change yourself.