Travel and the Truth: Ideas from Fellow Travelers

Perhaps standing outside of a portable lavatory isn’t the usual place to receive either advice or inspiration, but that’s what happened to me this morning.

Chatting with another traveler who stood next to me in line, I swapped tips about what to see, where to stay, and places to eat. Though I didn’t know this woman or her own tastes, I decided to give her advice a try. What do you know — it worked! Everything went well, so I am grateful to her for sharing ideas. 

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We are all travelers in this life. We arrive at different times in different places under different circumstances, and from there we pursue a multitude of paths. We intersect at some point, and perhaps we travel together for a while or maybe not. Eventually the journey ends in this material world, and then we continue on in the next world.

From my own perspective as a Baha’i with a belief in the eternal soul and its continual journey, I try to fathom that longer path. Though my ability to understand future worlds is as limited as that of the fetus in the womb trying to comprehend this one, I can prepare for it the best way I know how — and I can recognize that I am not alone in my travels. In the words of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson: “We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”

From chance encounters with strangers to daily contact with family members, we benefit in countless ways from what our fellow travelers teach us. We read their words, watch their actions, and consult with them on important matters. We consider their welfare in our own decision-making and social practices. We vote for them to represent us in civic society or in organizations where we belong. We trust them to maintain vital systems such as water, roads, and power. We work alongside them in our jobs, volunteer service, and neighborhood projects. We sit among them in restaurants, theatres, sports arenas, and airplanes. We respect them, and we trust them to respect other travelers, too. 

These situations illustrate our interdependence. Life is complex, and we humans have developed intricate systems for coping with it. As a result, living conditions have improved, and together we educate children and care for people in need, though regrettably not yet in a perfect manner. 

When someone gives me advice or shares an idea, I can decide for myself whether to trust it. I have no reason to think that a person chatting with me outside of a lavatory would be deceitful, but this sort of naïve trust need not extend to what I read or hear about world news, for example. Some skepticism is always suitable, while I form my own opinion as to the credibility and possible motives of the writer or speaker. 

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I am fortunate to live in a part of the world where I am free to investigate and evaluate matters for myself. Despite the divisiveness in partisan politics, at least we have a venue for the expression of ideas. But what if — rather than defending one’s own position — those ideas could be frankly discussed and explored through a consultative process, and then there were unity of action? Truth would be discovered and pursued. 

The Baha’i teachings actively encourage all of us to do exactly that: to discover the truth for ourselves. In a speech he gave in North America in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha said:

First, it is incumbent upon all mankind to investigate truth. …

By investigating the truth or foundation of reality underlying their own and other beliefs, all would be united and agreed, for this reality is one; it is not multiple and not divisible.

As we travel though time and space in our daily tasks, we all encounter other people. A friendly smile, some helpful advice and words of encouragement can make a difference. Without having to buy a ticket to go somewhere, we are traveling together at that moment. Let’s make it a good trip. 

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