Elaine: Ugh, I hate people.
Jerry: Yeah, they’re the worst.
I am sure any true Seinfeld fan will recognize this conversation between Jerry and Elaine. And the scary part is – I think we (at least I) recall it because oftentimes it resonates so well. I don’t know how many times after a 30-minute customer service conversation that I have half-joked with Terra using the “people are the worst” schtick.
Not to go too deep into Seinfeld (although I could), but I would argue that a big reason why Jerry and Elaine think people are the worst are because they stick together inside their rather small world; whenever anyone tries to infiltrate their little world (see Newman, Bubble boy, Crazy Joe Davola, etc, etc) they make fun of, complain about, belittle, and ultimately reject. It’s no wonder that Larry David wrapped up the series with them all in a jail cell together; they got what they deserved! (Of course there is a whole debate on whether that was a satisfactory way to end the series…)
With 7.5 billion people and counting on this planet, there are liable to be a handful of people that really ruin it for the rest of us. And those few people can poison the way we view humanity in general.
On a smaller scale, there are caricatures about specific people or groups of people that gain traction in a society at large. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve heard someone say that French people are rude (and then back it up with experience X to prove their point). Without any personal experience most of the hearers of this accept it as gospel, which is usually enforced in some way by Hollywood. The French rudeness critique (which we’ve found not to be true at all) is a pretty benign example compared to the xenophobic paranoia that currently exists in the world today towards anyone with a different (usually minority) set of beliefs. This is exacerbated by the 24/7 news cycle which creates a fractured view of the world; we are ‘aware’ of many more things but we don’t have the time or desire to truly understand them all. This can lead to overly simplistic and “one-size-fits-all” stances on extremely complex topics. Throw a presidential race like this one in the US into the blender and…well, we can all see the results on a daily basis. Include all of the retweets into the mix, and you can see why it’s easy to think people are the worst (I admit, I just wanted to say ‘retweets’). Fortunately, through our journey we’ve found the best evidence we’ve found that Seinfeld was wrong – people are the best.
Our European ‘People Journey’
Evidence abounded that this trip would be defined by the generosity of people even before we began. I went to my company, Slalom Consulting, with a request to take quite awhile off to travel the world. To my joy, everyone at Slalom was supportive and they immediately went to work to make a smooth transition for my project into the capable hands of my successor. Not only that, but the message I received was: “We’ll welcome you back when you return, and we’re sure this journey will make you a more well-rounded, complete person.” What kind of company says this? Simply amazing. (Not to mention that our primary inspirations for taking this trip were from Slalom – I’m looking at you Martin and Sue Alleman!)
My parents took our precious dog, Cammy, for the entire time with back-up support from a North Bend couple with an amazing doggy daycare business. Our friend Jen offered to park our car in one of her spots. Our friends helped us cram all of our stuff into a small one-room storage unit. Even at that point we were asking ourselves the question: what did we do to deserve such an outpouring of love and generosity?
As we discussed our plans with more and more people, our friend Mary at our church (SVA) got wind of our journey and mentioned excitedly that she had friends (Marvin and Lisa) who are missionaries in the French Alps, and that is when the real fun began. Among other things that they do here, Marvin and Lisa run a program called Celebrate Recovery (well, the French name is different) that focuses on helping people overcome destructive addictions and character challenges – great stuff! By that afternoon she had us in touch with them and we had a two-week stay booked at Marvin and Lisa’s house here…
But wait, it gets better. I mentioned to Marvin that we were thinking about visiting Croatia, and he put us in touch with a Croatian couple, Aleks and Sandra. They offered up both their place on the beach in Zadar as well as a visit to their house in Cakovec (near the Slovenian border), which we took them up on for 2+ weeks in September and ended up here…
Kindness doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we’ve experienced from both of these couples (not to mention Aleks and Sandra’s entire family), whom we didn’t know at all prior to talking over Skype in preparation for visiting. They have driven hours to pick us up, cooked us meals and taken us out to restaurants, given us hours of guidance and tips for travel, done our laundry, given us a car to drive, and welcomed us whole-heartedly into their family. And all of this was given and done for us with no expectation of being able to give anything in return to complete strangers. Simply amazing!
Being so intimately involved in the lives of these families has also shed a light on local culture that we never would have otherwise received. In Croatia, this involved attending a Baptist service entirely in Croatian (thanks Sandra for the live translation), getting schooled by a group of Croatian men in soccer (I mean, futbol), getting schooled by a group of Croatian men in basketball (sensing a theme here), and visiting the sites of the projects Aleks and Sandra have going on – 1) building a completely energy-efficient sustainable house, and 2) working with their church to build a new church that will house their ever-expanding family (you can see a video here about their goals and plans). Did I mention that Aleks is also building two hotels – one in Dubrovnik and one near Split? If there were pictures next to the words for ‘indefatigable’ and ‘generous’ I’m pretty sure it would be a photo of Aleksander and Sandra Markov (as well as Marvin and Lisa Klein – who we’ll get a chance to spend time with starting tomorrow over the next several days).
While building these connections are a highlight, it doesn’t stop there. From the moment we stepped foot in Iceland to today our path has been marked by generosity from strangers – seriously! I was given a free coffee from a gas station attendant on my first day because I looked so bewildered and out of it. Possibly like this…
Other examples abound – a Parisian couple (Adeline and Stephan) who not only gave us a place to stay in Paris but were also very generous with their local knowledge and their household items, our friend Quentin who walked us all around the Paris area and helped us get our bearings, a couple we met from Canada who invited us up to their deck for some wine with the best view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and many, many others. Not to mention great friends that we’ve met in seemingly random ways (I’m looking at you Jo and Chris and Hans and Tove!).
Stepping out into the world has expanded our family in very real ways, but it’s also fundamentally changed the way that we view people and societies at large. It’s helped us realize that when we stay in our small Seinfeld-esque world, it’s easy to hold on to ideas that are correspondingly small. In our situation expanding our world literally involved traveling the world, although that doesn’t have to be the case.
It’s an understatement to say that the US is going through a bit of a crazy time right now with the upcoming elections. We all are continually bombarded with ideas, stories, and images from all sides with social media and the like. In the midst of all of this, one question I would pose to all my readers is: how are you viewing people around you – are they the best, or are they the worst (especially if they disagree with you)?
Below are a few more pictures from the past few days in the Alps.