Imagine: The Privilege of Travel

In one of their recent albums, the extraordinary acapella group, Pentatonix, covered John Lennon’s, “Imagine;” not something many singers or groups would have the hutzpah to do but they nailed it. Even better still is their video(opens in a new tab).  In the latter half, the members exchange cue cards visible to the camera which indicate their orientation, sex, religion and nationality. Each card is passed to another member of the group with whom they share the same attribute. That person then flips the card to reveal another trait, passing it to the next member with whom they share that characteristic. In the end, they all flip the cards to spell out H-U-M-A-N.

Mesmerized by the video, I’ve watched it countless times, and it finally dawned on me why. What Pentatonix masterfully does is illustrate one of Lennon’s key messages of “Imagine” –“the brotherhood of man.” In a very simple and graceful manner, the group demonstrates how easy it is to find common ground with anyone, and that we all share one thing, we are human. Unfortunately, most of us recognize “the brotherhood of man,” is not automatically associated with that.

Now, how does a music video translate to, “The Privilege of Travel?” Simple – the numbers. Only 16% of the world’s population travels, or can travel, for the purpose of tourism. Sixteen percent! That in-and-of-itself makes travel a privilege but using the Pentatonix video as an example, let’s drill down further. When we travel, we are all essentially ambassadors – on every level. We represent any and every community we consider ourselves to be part of. More importantly, we represent mankind – “the brotherhood of man,” to the other 84 percent of the world’s population that cannot or does not have the ability to travel. We are the representatives of the world outside of theirs, and I suspect, they see our ability to visit foreign lands and people as a privilege. The question is, do we the 16%?

Unfortunately, the answer would seem to be “no” – at least not all of us. Even in the travel industry, for example, there are those who have suggested we create a market around a sense of urgency, as in, “See it while you can.” Seriously?! So, if I understand this correctly, we should overrun Venice or the Galapagos as quickly as possible for our own gratification with no consideration for the immediate consequences, let alone the preservation of those respective marvels. Such an egregious and arrogant approach would imply we have all the entitlement and none the responsibility. The messaging here should be, “Let’s do something about it while we can, or better still, “We must do something about it while we can.”

It’s easy to rationally accept that with privilege comes responsibility. Noam Chomsky summed this sentiment up perfectly, “Responsibility I believe accrues through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility.” In this case, I will use, “people like you and me” as those of us who have the privilege to travel. That privilege undeniably comes with responsibility, a simple one – to create a positive and lasting impact wherever we go. The goal is equally simple, as stated on my own website, “to travel with a purpose; to travel and experience with the intent of being citizen of the world, not just a consumer of it.” In other words, to be part of creating and representing, “the brotherhood of man.”

We may never see the utopian world Mr. Lennon asked us to “Imagine” in our lifetime. But, thank you to Pentatonix for a graceful reminder that we do share something in common with everyone we meet. Maybe believing this does make me a “dreamer” but, as the song says, “I’m not the only one.” And maybe more of us among the 16% who can “imagine all the people living life in peace” can contribute to it being a reality. “I hope someday you’ll join us and the world be as one.”

By Justin