“Recognizing beauty is the same energy as being grateful”, Christopher Van Buren told Claire Diaz-Ortiz in a recent interview. He’s on to something. When we pay attention, we see beauty, and gratitude flows.

Observation not only feeds appreciation. Observation has the power to overturn long-held assumptions. No where is this more true than in travel.

When we first arrived in Argentina, we were struck by the number of old cars. Not fancy antiques. These cars needed a running start for the engine to turn over. Duct tape held windows in place. One fascinating old pickup had no hood and perpetually blinking headlights.

My daughter was only 7 when she asked me why so many people in Argentina have old cars. She realized, though you may not, that the people driving those beaters are not lazy. They are not slobs. They are hard working people. Some are educated or skilled at a trade. Their homes and kids are well cared for.

Why keep such an unreliable, old car? We could create an entire curriculum around all the reasons: inflation rates as high as 15-40%, high interest rates on car loans, supply and demand, climate, government regulations, urban planning, personal values, standard of living. A new car is simply unattainable and not the top priority for most families.

The thing I hope she carries with her is a new definition of normal.

A two car garage with a four-door sedan and an SUV is not normal. It is not expected or assumed in most of the world. I am not entitled to a home of a certain square footage. Likewise, that big house and SUV are not prerequisites for joy or to live well.

We talk a lot of freeing ourselves from comparison. And yet, the words “normal” and “necessary” are usually defined by what we see.

Our own street and subdivision tell us how big a house is expected. Our peers inform our clothing decisions. We know – in our heads – that we are wealthy compared to the rest of the world. But when all I see are new and pretty things, I become quite sure that I need that stuff.

So, what is normal?

You can’t travel without having your definition of normal challenged. Unless you don’t look.

Travel can change our perspective on what is needed. But that is not the only voice influencing us.

In our early days in our new country, we watched more than our usual quota of TV. One afternoon, I overheard Raquel ask Barbie, “What kind of tacky house doesn’t have a second elevator?!”

Honestly! Who expects a house to have any elevator?! The comment was supposed to be over the top, but still. How many sitcoms or reality shows take place in tiny, dilapidated, overcrowded homes?

Who tells us what is normal? Our own subdivision? Netflix? HGTV?

TV. Netflix. Movies. YouTube. HGTV. All the screens show us pictures of what life “should” look like. Big, beautiful homes are common. Perfect decor is what we should all strive for. Countless clothes and shoes are not unusual.

They may even be normal.

No wonder we so quickly forget to be grateful.

Observe the strange and the beautiful in a foreign land. Engage the questions that arise. Allow assumptions to be challenged. This may be the deepest and best learning.

The best education we can offer to our kids is to teach them to observe and ask the questions.

Help your kids to pay attention. Talk and write about what they observe. You’ll be well on your way to preparing your kids to be life-long learners. And travelers.

Does a better antidote exist for bloated expectations?

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”- Gilbert K. Chesterton

How have your own assumptions been challenged or changed by your travels? Do you see this happening with your kids?

P.S. When travel isn’t an option, a visit to a different neighborhood and good stories are the next best thing!


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