9-11 left me questioning my life. I looked at my beliefs about people, the way I spent my time, the things I really cared about, and wondered “am I really making a difference?”. I always thought I was, but now, in a flash everything I was doing seemed trivial, exhausting, meaningless.
Mainly, I looked at my career – work I had so much passion for suddenly felt small, silly, even arrogant. What right did I have to be on TV? Who was I to tell people they should travel more? Why should anyone care what I think? And why beat my head against the wall? Ever since we started Passport to Adventure, TV industry execs and “ratings data” had been telling us the American TV audience isn’t interested in travel. And now, just as our small band of world-wanderers was beginning to prove the powers-that-be wrong, this happens. (The 1990’s saw increases in the number of Americans traveling to “adventurous”, previously feared, destinations – it was an encouraging trend for us)
In the weeks that followed, like the rest of the world, I tried to get my head around what it all meant. What was true? How do we move forward? What can I do to help? Producing Passport to Adventure no longer felt right. I even wondered if I should pull it off the air – was it offensive to promote travel when our country was suffering?
Then, one morning, I had an “ah ha moment”. I realized that what I did was now more important than ever. Someone had to combat the images and fears bombarding us. A terrible thing had been done, by terrible people, but from my travels I knew that the world is not full of these people.
Travel taught me that the people in every corner of the world are far more like us than not – they are primarily kind & generous, they welcome travelers, and they want to be able to provide for their family, just like us.
I began thinking… the only way to stop the madness is for the people of the world to know each other, to see other religions and cultures as made up of fellow human beings, not as “with us or against us”. Even for those that don’t travel themselves, maybe a program like Passport to Adventure can help people understand each other? I know, it’s a big task, for a little show, but if we can affect one person, isn’t that worth not giving up?
I remembered a package I had received a few years before from an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn, New York. They had shown our China program in the classroom, then had the students answer some essay questions. When asked what they had learned from the program, one student wrote:
“I learned that Chinese people are not mean”.
And there were other similar comments. It was fascinating to see how early xenophobia can take hold. (Our new slogan? “Passport to Adventure – prying open one mind at a time”)
Ten years later, the same conviction still drives me, as Passport struggles through this tough economy, the shake-up of the TV industry, and I look for the way forward. Once again I find myself taking inventory of what I value, what is important in life, and where we go from here. One thing I know for sure – I will continue my quest to know the people of the world.
Live small, travel BIG!