Let us pause for a moment and allow a wave of compassion wash over us for Jeffrey Grey.
The self-defined millennial recently wrote a piece for the blog “Thought Catalog” titled, “Why Your Obsession with Travel Means You’re Living a Mediocre Life.”
I’m sure we can all deduce what we need to know about Jeffrey from the title, and it is puzzling and sad, but let’s hear some more from the author:
“The truth is that my generation has been completely brainwashed by bullshit #millennial propaganda. Cute little listicles featuring chic pictures of young sexy people standing on the edge of waterfalls, that tell our generation that life is only worth living if we ‘travel.’ Instagram travelers who ~perfectly~ filter every single picture they’ve taken while exploring Europe on daddy’s dime.
“Do you want to know what I believe, honestly? The only people who want to travel incessantly are people who have, or want, completely mediocre lives.”
I will concede one point to Jeffrey: Some globetrotters can be annoyingly shallow reporters. I’ve had enough of fascinating pictures posted to Instagram or Facebook that are entirely void of context. And I’ll say the same for selfies. Your face in the foreground does not enhance your pictures of the Bujang Valley temple ruins or the Baatara Gorge waterfalls.
In fact, stop with the selfies. Now.
Take them but keep them for your old age, so you can lament your lost youthful looks as you try to recall exactly which ruins those are in the background.
But that wasn’t Jeffrey’s main point.
His point is fascinatingly absurd: If you live to travel, you aren’t living at all.
Go ahead, look puzzled.
Jeffrey’s statements grow loonier with every paragraph: “You don’t make an impact by being a ‘traveler.’ You don’t actually do anything at all. You just see. You just enjoy. You just leech off of people who are actually living lives worth living and doing jobs worth doing.”
Good heavens, world travelers as zombies? Who knew?
And, yes, that is the second time that Jeffrey suggests that people who travel the world are doing so on their daddy’s credit card, or some such thing.
I know, I know. Jeffrey needs to get out more. Like, out of the country, or his Mom’s basement.
This is by far my favorite line: “Did Albert Einstein wake up one day and think, ‘Wow I just need to do some sightseeing, and then maybe sometime later in my life I’ll do something that’s actually significant!’ ”
The reality is that Einstein happened to be traveling in the United States when Hitler came to power in 1933. Had he not been traveling — you know, visiting a foreign country — he might have been swept up with millions of other Jews and exterminated. Time travel defined Einstein’s life, but world travel saved it.
In Jeffrey’s world, people work hard and get ahead and prosper and tuck lots of money into their 401k so that some day, after the kids are gone and no longer talk to you and the divorce is settled and the company has pushed you upstairs and out the door with a gold watch … well, maybe then you can travel, see the world. You’ve earned it.
But you know, Jeffrey has so many absolutist statements in this essay, I suspect his real goal is provocation rather than enlightenment. So be it. Provocative statements can lead to discussion, which can lead to a better understanding.
Let me try to contribute some perspective from the other side of 65, Jeffrey. I was someone who, like you, eschewed travel and sometimes family life in the name of productivity. Fortunately (or unfortunately in the eyes of many) I loved my work. Somehow, I came out of it all with three sons who still love me and speak to me. A lot of highly productive people aren’t that lucky. But some are.
Somewhere close to my own retirement, I fell in love and married a woman who loves traveling the world. She has done it all her life, while contributing to society in many productive ways, among which are as a ballet dancer, a teacher and a mother. We now live in Belize. (That’s a story you can read elsewhere on this blog.) She saved my life. Well, at the least, she showed me how to live my life on a bigger stage. And I am so grateful for that.
Between us we have five children who, at various times, have lived to travel — and all are better, more well-rounded, more sensitive, more aware — just plain better people — for their experiences. And all are productive by any standard, even Jeffrey’s.
This is a big world with lots of people in it. Very very different people. It can absorb the tiny percentage who choose to spend their lives traveling. Not everyone needs to be productive in the stifling corporate/consumer loop that has turned the United States into one of the most repressive nations in the world. Our world travelers are tomorrow’s poets and authors and artists and journalists — people who may well bring us back to sanity.
We need them. Especially in this era when certain types of politicians are promoting fear of the rest of the world as a legitimate lifestyle. We need world travelers to show the rest of the world that we are not the political batshit crazy phobics and racists that they see on TV.
I would encourage every young man and woman to get out as soon as you can and travel somewhere far from your comfort zone, far from your parents and far from your home-grown prejudices. Travel for as long as it takes to turn you into a Human Being.
Eventually most of you will come back and take your place in society — but as smarter, more-aware and just better adjusted people than your parents and all those corporate-consumer dupes who chose to stay home and be productive servants to a false god.
Go for it. Now. Before it is too late.
You, too, Jeffrey.