The Power of Perceptual View—Why We Must Travel

Listening to artist Makoto Fujimura brilliantly answer questions from Belmont University students last night caused me to see once again the power of perceptual view. Fujimura had the distinct advantage of growing up and attending school in both Boston and Tokyo. The perceptual view afforded him by the divergent philosophies of the East and the West created an extraordinary artistry blessed with a rare convergence of American free enterprise and Asian sense of essence.

We Americans are reared with the adage ringing in our ears, “Curiosity kills the cat.” To that, I say an emphatic bull#@%*! In fact, Arnold Edinborough says it this way, “Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”

An endless curiosity is essential to the life of a creative. If our lives are consumed by a search for meaning, few activities reveal as much about our quest—in all of its passion and paradoxes—than our travels. In the captivating book, The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes, “The French poet Baudelaire honored reveries of travel as a mark of those noble questing souls whom he described as ‘poets’, who could not be satisfied with the horizons of home even as they appreciated the limits of other lands, whose temperaments oscillated between hope and despair, childlike idealism and cynicism.” When oppressed by the atmosphere in his home town where the world seemed “monotonous and small,” he would travel. He writes,

Carriage, take me away with you! Ship, steal me away from here!
Take me far, far away. Here the mud is made of our tears!

I grew up the child of a small southern community in rural USA where most of the residents spend their life and death in a tiny sphere of several miles. Somehow, at the age of twenty-five, I escaped the confines of rural southern culture and moved to the international melting pot called South Florida. Words cannot adequately describe the culture shock of this naive Tennessee country boy and family upon encountering the perceptual view of New Yorkers, Bostonians, New Jerseyans, Cubans, Latinos and the Caribbean.

Here is a statistic that continually shocks me. Only 27% of Americans possess a passport. Americans as a whole isolate themselves from the rest of the world in the laziest of ways, reveling in cultural ignorance and scoffing at the very idea of going abroad. Many could travel if they wanted to, but they simply don’t. They willingly deprive themselves of the power of perceptual view.

The term perceptual view means gaining new insight, intuition, or knowledge by perceiving sensory stimuli. For those of us who find travel an art, the misconceptions of a foreign country are soon dispelled upon encountering the sight, sounds and smells of the people who live there. Let’s explore three fascinating aspects of perceptual view for a brief moment.

First, perceptual view provides insight. It provides the opportunity to apprehend the true nature of a thing. For example, we can be “Islamaphobes,” only until we sit on the floor and break bread with a Muslim in their country and realize they think and act just like me and you. Insight soon dawns that their perception of Americans is just as skewed as our perception of them. Also, my creative insight is never so heightened as when I travel another land. So, the West meets the East.

Second, perceptual view provides intuition. “How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.” So says Russian born American writer,  Isaac Asimov. When intuition—a knowledge or belief obtained neither by reason nor by perception—converges with insight, powerful things happen both emotionally and rationally—a multifaceted revelation occurs that produces creative capital. And, the East meets the West.

Third, perceptual view provides knowledge. Travel rewards our curiosity with facts, truths, and principles—it gives us opportunity to study and investigate. New art, food, drink, architecture, lands and people release latent layers of value. The knowledge gained may have more to do with the mindset with which we travel, rather than the destination we travel to. We must travel with receptivity. We must be perceptive to the layers of history and culture that provide invaluable gifts of insight, intuition and ultimately knowledge. And knowledge is power. Power to truly live and create. And never the twain shall part.

We need to be shaken from our passivity and isolation. If we consider our world to be boring—it will duly meet our expectations.

Travel, on the other hand, causes us to perceive and view the importance of what we’ve already seen with new eyes. As Thoreau challenges us,  “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

What would be your dream travel destination? Why?

26 Responses to “The Power of Perceptual View—Why We Must Travel”

  1. Kathleen Overby October 8, 2010 at 15:06

    How many passports have you had renewed? Is a favorite question. :)

  2. I’ve only traveled abroad once in my life (well, I’ve been to Mexico and Canada but I don’t really count them as “abroad”.) I went to Nigeria for work and it was a real eye opening experience for the most part. Unfortunately, it was a work trip, so I spent very little time outside of where I was working and the hotel. (I was also told it really wasn’t safe for a white American at night. The staff at the hotel I stayed in actually turned away men I worked with who came to get me because they thought it was a kidnapping attempt.)

    I know I should probably find a way to do it (when I can afford to go) but I’ve always been enamored with America’s diversity. There’s so many places in the USA I want to see (coastline in Maine, Fenway Park, Puget Sound, etc.) that if I had to choose between a trip to Europe and a trip to the mountains in northern Colorado, I’d probably take Colorado and enjoy the peace & quiet of the mountains. I don’t know if that makes me culturally ignorant or not.

    • @Jason, No. I certainly understand the longing to see the diversity of America. Our country is rich in experience and culture. I just think that other lands provide a uniquely different perceptual view that can be rewarding. Thanks, Jason.

  3. I have traveled to Haiti on a two week mission trip when I was in my early 20’s, which was the first time out of the state/country for me, VERY eye opening! Then, in my late 20’s I spent 3 weeks in China (as a covert missionary). That was incredible. China’s history and culture is phenomenal! I hope to go back someday.

    Most importantly (to actually answer your question), my great grandfather immigrated to the US from Sicily. I just found out last summer that there is a vineyard on Sicily named “Capra”. Oh, how I want to go there and find out if it is my ancestry! All I know about the two generations that separate me and my great grandfather is that it is full of abusive alcoholics. It would be nice to know that somewhere in my ancestry there is a redeeming quality, like a family vineyard! (It would also be very cool to have a couple bottles of wine on the rack with my name on them!)

  4. Randy, what a great post! We truly believe that travel opens so many avenues to learning, thus we haul our kids with us on all our trips. We also were able to live in the Caribbean for a few years, and exposing our children to the Spanish, English, French and Creole cultures there have made them only better for it! Traveling to Panama, Mexico and Canada with them help them to realize that there is so much more to culture than what limited amount they have here in the US. In fact, our kids would rather vacation in a small Mexican fishing village (Loreto, Sayulita) than in a swanky Florida resort. Good on ’em! I’ve posted on a similar thought over at my blog. You might enjoy it as well. Thanks again for posting!

  5. Jonathan Jones October 8, 2010 at 18:02

    I’m reminded of the old, well-worn joke. What do you call someone who can speak three languages? Tri-lingual. What do you call someone who can speak two languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call someone who can speak one language? An American.

  6. First, on a personal note, I love your blogs..I find them intellectually stimulating!

    You struck a never with me on this one..I’m one of the few that has owned a passport since I was 2yrs old..My father is from Switzerland and came here, to the States, as a trainee, where he met my mother..Along with having family in Switzerland my mother was a tour escort and European guide…

    I’ve been to Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Liechtenstein..Various Caribbean Islands including Jamaica and have traveled up and down the East Coast, of the US, either vacationing or on different missions trips with my church or other organizations……However, I’ve yet to see many others countries and states….and they are on my bucket list…

    Traveling is obviously in my blood…. I agree with you 100% that stepping out into the world will not only strengthen and expand your knowledge (and your heart), but it will also strengthen and reinforce your own beliefs..”Cultured,” it’s a good thing…

    Side note:I’ve lived in the same town, in PA, where I was born..I have never moved and consider it my “home base”..Maybe some day Spence Smith and I can compare passports…I still have the one from when I was 2…OH, and I leave for Florida, next Friday, for a week stay with my girlfriends…Auf Wiedersehen :)

  7. I was going to say that I would just stay here but the whole meeting new people blew that one out of the water. I think I would go back to the Sea of Galilee, and just fish a little, and sit on the shore and enjoy the view. Then I would go to the slums of Bombay. I have a friend that is a pastor there, and work with him for a few weeks. I really appreciate clean water after being there. Then I would park it on Mt Princeton for a while.

  8. And I live in the Middle East. Have for almost 9 yrs of my adult life over a 35 year period. Have also lived in Scotland and Germany and studied in Dublin. We plan to retire to Turkey within the year. (Come stay at our little quiet retreat space!) Needless to say, have traveled (and fellowshiped) extensively. My life with Jesus, my understanding of scripture–transformed through engagement with African, Asian, Scottish and Irish believers.

    The thing is, while I agree with what you say, my rootlessness gives me appreciation for those firmly rooted to particular people and place. Those who have learned to live and love for the long term, to live simple and at home. You may say to me, “Wow! What an exciting life you lead! What adventure.” People do say that–with envy. And I hear them and wish they could see, from the other side, how rich their depth and experience can seem to me.

    • @Jeri Bidinger, Jeri, Yes, I understand a small part of what you mean. I attended 12 schools in 12 grades growing up moving constantly. Never felt as if I had a home base. There is something to be said for an established place to call home that one can always return. Thanks so much.

  9. This post reminded me of one of my favorite poems by Alastair Reid. :-)


    may have killed the cat; more likely
    the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
    to see what death was like, having no cause
    to go on licking paws, or fathering
    litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

    Nevertheless, to be curious
    is dangerous enough. To distrust
    what is always said, what seems
    to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
    leave home, smell rats, have hunches
    do not endear cats to those doggy circles
    where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches
    are the order of things, and where prevails
    much wagging of incurious heads and tails.

    Face it. Curiosity
    will not cause us to die–
    only lack of it will.
    Never to want to see
    the other side of the hill
    or that improbable country
    where living is an idyll
    (although a probable hell)
    would kill us all.

    Only the curious have, if they live, a tale
    worth telling at all.

    Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,
    are changeable, marry too many wives,
    desert their children, chill all dinner tables
    with tales of their nine lives.
    Well, they are lucky. Let them be
    nine-lived and contradictory,
    curious enough to change, prepared to pay
    the cat price, which is to die
    and die again and again,
    each time with no less pain.
    A cat minority of one
    is all that can be counted on
    to tell the truth. And what cats have to tell
    on each return from hell
    is this: that dying is what the living do,
    that dying is what the loving do,
    and that dead dogs are those who do not know
    that dying is what, to live, each has to do.

  10. Randy!! This is so true & something I totally noticed when I went over to New Zealand last year. Needless to say, that’s my dream location & where I’ll be #in10years.

    It’s also been refreshing to be in DC and out of the WC. Don’t get me wrong… middle TN is great & a beautiful place, but it’s been nice to have some other cultural influences around. Great post!

  11. Buy me one of those “Beam me up Scotty” things so I can avoid the airlines and I am all over it! Curiosity did not kill the cat, seat 3b in coach killed the cat.

  12. It’s interesting that I caught the bug to travel. My family NEVER traveled. My dad still has barely been further then 2hours from our family home. So my first overseas trip was when I was 18 to the Solomon Islands, then a few years later to Fiji (I couldn’t believe it was possible to go to such beautiful places and have them classified as ‘mission trips’! Such adventure… especially having tribal warriors barging out of the bush waving machettes and barely wearing anything to welcome us because we were the first ‘white people’ to EVER visit their village!)

    Then I’ve been to New Zealand, America, Canada, Mexico, England, Taiwan (even if it was just for a few hours layover I found a buddy and we went exploring the city!) and most recently Sierra Leone. All of the opportunities I have had to travel have been either ‘mission’ trips or associated with my work with the Christian music industry. Never just for a holiday! One day maybe… but I love that God has allowed me to be part of something so dear to my soul even though I’ve lived on a shoestring budget for so long. Such an incredible blessing!!!

    Right now I’m traveling solo all around my own state – once again promoting a Christian festival – but I’m loving the solitude of driving on these quiet outback roads… discovering new beach (for myself) and meeting absolute quality people everywhere I go. It’s so amazing.

    Thanks again for reminding me of the blessings of travel and discovery!

    • @Joy Argow, Joy, you are an amazing woman!! This quote is simply incredible “because we were the first ‘white people’ to EVER visit their village!”

      Wow!! Thanks for adding so much to this conversation.

  13. Nice post, Randy! Didn’t see it until today (just returning to work/life after my daughter’s surgery…which went very well).

    In middle school in Dalton, GA my best friend was born and raised in Mexico. I felt like I knew a secret no one else knew: life somehow existed and thrived outside Dalton.

    I spent most of March in China. I love that country and am diligently working to expand my language skills and friendships there.

    • @Keith Jennings, Thanks, Keith. Glad your daughter’s surgery went well.

      Yes, in Ringgold, Dalton and the mountains of Tennessee, it was rare to know anyone from a different country.

      And I’ve always wanted to go to China. My son-in-law travels there again in a week or so. I plan to go some day.

      On my travel plate in the next few months are trips to Ecuador, Egypt and Israel. All for the first time.

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