HI USA AND THE ORLANDO TRAGEDY

The terrorist assault against the gay community in Orlando last Sunday is an attack on our basic human values. Among my own many feelings of anger, condolence and frustration, it prompted me to think about our hostels and the role they need to play in today’s world.

As travelers, we are quick to focus on the promise of our world … a mosaic of people, places and cultures which we are ready to embrace and seek to understand.  In a traveler’s world of hope, discovery and growth, it’s the journey that matters.

Of course sometimes the pieces simply don’t fit.   When I was in Cambodia and could not grasp the Killing Fields, where more than a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime.  Or in the Dachau concentration camp, where I became physically ill as I came to understand the apparatus of brutality used against the Jewish people.  Or on the Trail of Tears, where I stood shamed by my own ignorance about two decades of forced removal of American Indians from their frontier lands.

In this way, travel confronts you with the inexplicable. How did humanity so lose its path?  How did bigotry and prejudice ever gain such force?

Those same questions seem to be gaining relevance today. Intolerance is rising.  Hate seems an increasing influence on our public vocabulary.  Civility is in decline.   All seem factors in Orlando’s tragedy, as religion, politics and sexual orientation became cruelly entwined in a disturbed mind.

HI USA must stand tall as a beacon of friendship during times like these.   Our hostels universally embrace all. Our programs deliver opportunities for thoughtful conversation and shared learning.  And our volunteers extend themselves to welcome unfamiliar visitors. These reflect shared organizational values that make us strong and allow us to lead.

Yet we cannot stand still. We are seeking to deliver a travel experience that, in Mark Twain’s words, “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness”. The senseless deaths in Orlando tell us we must all work harder.

Count me in.

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