"Why is everyone in a tizzy?" I asked my new boxing trainer.
"Because Manny is coming," he said.
Meeting famous Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was certainly a highlight of our first episode in the Philippines, and, as many things on our show, it was completely unexpected. His arrival was like the return of the king. Eyes lit up, the vibration on the streets buzzed, and people fawned to be near him. Hell, even I felt a little tongue tied when we chatted through the ropes.
A very different kind of tension hummed as I entered the so called "slum" of Tondo. I walked through a gate to descend. A creeping fear ran through my head that it might lock from the inside, sealing me into the neighborhood.
As I entered eyes peered from all kinds of angles amidst the dilapidated alleyways. I could feel people watching. Middle-class conditioning took the stage of my mind and performed a monologue: "This is a place to fear. You can't trust these people."
Some adults came out of a doorway and approached. They offered to show me around. I looked up to my crew, cautiously filming from the freeway above, and called them down. I admit, sheepishly, that I hoped I hadn't summoned them into a trap.
Why does our species have this propensity to create the "other"? The people in that neighborhood, in that country, across the tracks, with that accent, or with that skin color are distinct from us.
Recently I took a small vacation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. A good friend picked me up from the airport. He’s a kind hearted, open-minded guy. He cautioned me almost immediately about the locals, warning that their disdain for invasive mainlanders could manifest in violent ways. Although his intentions were good, my mind created a separate folder labeled "locals." Anyone in that category would now have the stigma of danger.
Days later I walked, bleary eyed, into a supermarket looking for a coffee stand. A big and strong local cruised by holding a large coffee cup in his hand.
"Hey man," I said, "did you get that coffee in here?"
The guy's rugged face broke into the warmest smile I'd seen on the island.
"Yeah bro, you can get it over there at that counter."
This was an alpha male of the dangerous “other” tribe affably directing me to my nearest caffeine fix. Not so scary after all.
How can we surmount this divisive way of thinking? The answer is to travel. Not all-inclusive, stay in the resort type travel, but get out and meet the people travel. As I mentioned in a speech I would give later in the Philippines, travel is not about the distance you go or the budget you have to spend. It is simply the act of having unique experiences with people different than you. actually, travel is about having unique experiences with people whom you perceived to be different than you. What we inevitably discover is that there is very little which separates us.
We all love something and fear something. We all want to belong. We all worry about the future. We're essentially the same consciousness spread over the globe, born into different circumstances, with different bodies and brains, from no effort of our own. Some were conceived in Peoria, Illinois and some in Tondo, Manila.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM