Travel as a Political Act: An afternoon with Rick Steves

This last week in Dallas, the World Affairs Council of Dallas Ft. Worth, along with our host station, KERA, sponsored Rick Steves, social activist, author, TV host and travel expert. Steves spoke at the new Wylie Theatre to a packed house, in spite of the rain. He was as many viewers know him to be, charming and engaging.

However, I’m not writing about his ability to charm or engage an audience or even about his travel slides, all of which were certainly worth the price of admittance.  I’m writing about some of his rather startling sentiments regarding travel and what it could be, but often is not. Steves doesn’t believe travel is about margaritas and fun in the sun, but that travel serves to humanize. It’s about meeting and talking to the people of the country. He says that if we get to really know about our counterparts in other parts of the world and how similar their values are to ours – their wishes for their children and their families and community are so similar to ours – “it’s tough to demonize them.”

From Merely “Other People” to People Just Like Us

Rick started his travels at age 14 when he and his parents visited family in Norway. One afternoon while people watching at a local park, he noticed that just as his parent’s world revolved around him, and they went out of their way to make him happy, and provide experiences for him, the other families were doing the same for their children. “Right then,” he said, “my 14 year old egocentric self took a huge hit.”  He realized, “This planet is home to billions of equally lovable children of God.”  He’s carried this understanding with him throughout his travels around the globe.

Steves tells us,

“Travel inspires creative new solutions to the persistent problems facing our nation. Travel helps de-demonize. We’re 4% of the total world population. God blesses us and everyone else too.”

He commented on how it [travel] broadens our understanding.  He says, “Most people at the wheel have a vested interest and it’s not yours and mine.”  Rick also commented on everything from anarchists to terrorists, fundamentalism to trade policy, stating “It’s trade policy that keeps people poor;” the European Union, drug policies, water challenges around the globe and military forces.

Not for the Faint of Heart

He didn’t spare himself either, “the two sets of braces I bought to keep my kids teeth straight could have paid for a well for water-starved people, so that a woman could stay home with her children and not have to walk most of her day to go get water.”  Introspectively he said, “We’re better than that.”  Rick Steves took no prisoners, castigating media as well for their continual dumbing down.

He’s not for the faint of heart and I’m not sure how he’d go over at a Tea Party, but this rainy Sunday he caused that audience to really think. I couldn’t help but be reminded of how Dennis and I strive for the same on our TV program, and in our speeches “when we talk about things that matter with people who care…” also not about dumbing down nor for the faint of heart.

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Niki Nicastro McCuistion
Executive Producer/Producer McCuistion

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