Sunday, June 10, 2007

Just say yes

Back in the Tarifa and Budapest days, my friends and I cultivated a very simple approach to our adventurous, bohemian lives: Just say yes. The philosophy speaks for itself, I think. The idea is to accept all opportunities for adventure or discovery-- especially when you are living in a foreign and/or strange place, when such opportunities are more frequent and hold potentially profound implications for your experience there. I’ve already had a couple of JSY moments here, but here I’d just like to explain the philosophy in all its profound simplicity.

While bound to fail on occasion—meaning that potential fun fizzles out or even ends up a waste of time—the JSY strategy is indispensable. I can’t begin to list the wonderful life experiences that almost didn’t happen because I was almost too much of a wimp to JSY. Underground parties, hidden gems in the city and country, real connections with new friends, an unexpected lesson learned, an unforgettable conversation with someone I'll never meet again.
It makes sense to be more adventurous while traveling/expatting than you would be at home, where you're more likely to be comfortable and complacent. Abroad there's simply more stimuli and discovery, less stability and boredom. JSY can be intimidating because it often involves trusting a total stranger or recent acquaintance, or perhaps going somewhere without knowing the slightest thing about it. But hey: that's life, damnit: there is always an element of chance, the unknown, risk, tension, discovery. Unfortunately, the gated-community mindset taking hold in affluent cultures runs completely contrary to this philosophy of life.
Granted, there is also a thin line between adventurousness and recklessness, openness and naiveté. While I can look back on some reckless stunts, they pale in comparison to what some of my pals have pulled off, mostly in the third world. They would argue that the disorienting context of new places is the ideal venue to learn what life really means, and just how overwhelming/wonderful/terrible it can be. This illuminating quality is why people become addicted to travel, and why many who haven’t travelled are insular (or more likely to be). Many adventurous types come to create their own luck, in that they get better at meeting people, gauging contexts, and making smart decisions. Some have a better natural sense of this than others, but there is no doubt that travelling enhances it.
So if you're given the chance to drive overnight, through the rain, from Paris to Budapest in a beat up 1984 Peugeot with luggage roped onto the roof: just say yes. Change plans with a friend in order to do something potentially more exciting with complete strangers? JSY (and buy your ditched friend a drink later). Take a bus ride to an uncertain place to see an event that might or might not suck: sign me up. And finally, accept every invitation from a native of the strange land you’re inhabiting/visiting. The natives hold the key; for one to penetrate the shell of a place and discover its essence, one must engage the natives on their terms. So Just Say Yes—to most things—and you’ll be rewarded.
After all, what are the chances that you’ll end up dead in a ditch on the side of some back road? Pretty small, I’d say.

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