On Fixed and Fluid Worldviews: Were You Hoping to Catch a Bullet?

me and abdul 2

With Omani paratrooper instructor Abdul in Al Hamra, Oman

“I heard you got back from traveling,” a local man in New Hampshire said the other day, before explaining about how he’s heard Europe has a bunch of great hiking trails. He seemed to assume that we visited Europe because, after all, could there possibly be any other foreign place that would be safe to explore our there in the big, bad world?

“Sure did,” I replied. “It’s good to be back, but it was an amazing journey. We didn’t go to Europe, but we did go to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.”  His eyes widened after I mentioned traveling in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

“What?! Were you hoping to catch a bullet!?” he exclaimed in disbelief.

I mustered up a forced chuckle and told him that by embracing basic vigilance, we felt quite in those places; after all, they are ranked as some of the safest places in the world according to a report from the World Economic Forum, ranking 2nd (UAE) and 4th (Oman).

I didn’t feel like engaging on this topic further, sensing the possibility of a mildly contentious exchange. I instead changed the subject to deer hunting–something we ended up sharing a mutual interest in. I learned that as a dormant bow hunter, I can revive my hobby here in the Granite State on any land that isn’t posted, but that courtesy should rule: it’s best to ask permission.

Our short exchange seemed to encapsulate an argument explained by Thomas Edsall in this New York Times column about political leanings and a fixed or fluid worldview.

People with fixed worldviews tend to be wary about perceived (and real) dangers around them, are more likely to embrace authoritarianism, and prefer stability over social change.

On the other hand, folks like Rebecca and myself embrace a fluid worldview. We don’t see the world as a threatening place, we value openness, and we generally see change as a natural process that can often bring about positive results.

For us, fear rarely manifested itself while on the road. There was some discomfort being subject to a procession of curious and vaguely hostile stares at a local market in Tanzania, far off the tourist circuit. One time, on a bus in the countryside outside of Hanoi, a deranged man threatened me with a long pair of metal scissors because I wouldn’t give him my sunglasses or money. I was prepping for a potentially dangerous physical confrontation for a moment, but fortunately he got off the bus shortly thereafter. These experiences were anomalous–over the course of seven months, we experienced a lion’s share of hospitality, kindness, and curiosity in all six countries.

I wasn’t blind to this strong variance between a fixed and fluid world outlook before the journey, but my awareness of this gap is now heightened. Rampant bipartisanship is deeply rooted in a conflicting set of values, and on more than one occasion during our journey I commented to Rebecca that it’d be incredibly unlikely that we’d meet traveling Americans who supported Trump.

One commonality shared among the people we interacted with was their utter confusion and disdain for our President. Fortunately, not one person we encountered conflated us being Americans with supporting Trump. Traveling in four countries with a plurality or majority of Muslim citizens made it more likely, perhaps, that this could have occurred.  People in most countries also expressed justified fear of visiting America due to its obsession with guns.

I suspect that most people who have followed this journey see the world in a similar vein as we do. And while I wouldn’t go anywhere, I feel even more confident and comfortable to embrace future adventures in places where millions of Americans would be fearful of catching a bullet.