Confusion from the Unexpected

He sat there, looking at me. A man. His hand was outstretched toward me…longing. His clothes were tattered, frayed beyond the worst piece of used clothing I own. He was dirty and, though the area smelled of body odor from being in the big city, I imagined he smelled from lack of personal hygiene as well. I could tell he was blind in at least one eye, but his face was a bit mangled so it could have been worse than I knew.

I did not know his story. I did not know the struggles he went through. I did not know if he had any support at all. I did not know how hungry he was, and I honestly did not know how to respond.The first time I saw a beggar in another country, I was shocked. Seeing homeless people in the United States is very different, and my exposure to begging had been very limited. (I am very privileged and will not try to pretend otherwise.) The shock that overcame me left me speechless and ignorant of how to respond. I began to ask questions, learn about conditions that could lead someone there, and, more importantly, learn how to respond in a helpful way.

*The picture above is from my trip to West Africa when I was in college. While writing this post, I reminisced over past trips and all of the hard things I have seen in my travels.

As we travel with our children, seeing the struggles of other humans comes with the territory. There is a natural fear parents have in exposing their children to extreme hardships in life, like it will take their innocence away too soon. And unlike being able to research how to keep your children safe from harm in a physical way, such as knowing the food they eat or what areas to avoid, it falls on us as parents to handle the emotional response of experiences our children go through.

Early on, my husband and I wanted to make sure we never shrugged off learning opportunities. We knew we wanted our children to see what poverty looks like or what war or natural disaster can do to an area and everyday life. We also wanted to be there to explain the difference between poverty and standards of living. For example, there is a difference between a beggar who has no means of getting food and a family of six who live in a small two-bedroom apartment. Having smaller living quarters can simply be a life choice, but not having necessities is an issue we should notice.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.                     -Henry Miller

So continuing with the concept of seeing beyond your worldview when you travel, sometimes you are exposed to a normal that brings up feelings of confusion or hurt. As a parent, here are some ways we can help our children process all they see…

  • First, we must answer our children’s questions and not ignore what they see. We want them to embrace good differences, like skin color, and sympathize with the harder differences, like poverty. Telling them to “not ask questions” or “not worry about it” will leave them having to fill in the blanks on their own, which could lead to an unnecessary negative response.
  • Second, listen to their thoughts and help them process what they are thinking or seeing. Like I have said before, we do not know how our children will respond. I have a son who is compassionate and a daughter who tends to not care about anything. In both cases, we need to let them and help them cope in their own way.
  • Third, we need to teach them to respect others. Just because others have less than us doesn’t mean they are less than us. On the other hand, if others have more than us, they are not better than us. We need to respect both types of people and be open to learning how to respect others who are different from us.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list of handling hard situations while traveling, but I think you get the idea. Respecting other people is a lesson we all need to learn, especially as this world becomes more globalized. Also, these are the lessons that will grow our children into loving and understanding human beings.