“Hostelling International USA is founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places and cultures for a more tolerant world. “ – HI USA Purpose Statement
Travel is a long way from my reality today. I’ve spent most of the past 24 hours planted in front of my computer and television screen learning what others in my country feel is important in a leader. Yet like travel, this election has yielded valuable insights for me into the lives and feelings of others. It’s been an education, and I come away feeling a new importance for the work of HI USA.
The US presidential election ended early this morning with about half of our country having voted for the winner, and about half not. Close elections are not that unusual. But the harsh rhetoric in this election was both unusual and divisive. It was alarming to those who felt it personally, and has resulted in uncertainty around intentions and consequences.
That’s where we need to rediscover the idea of tolerance. For some, it’s a low-bar aspiration: showing respect for each other’s differences, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Yet it’s fundamental.
Differences of opinion seem a particularly timely example. Often absent over the past 18 months, tolerance and respect for others’ opinions – even if we find them infuriating or wrong – is going to be important for all of us to collectively embrace in order to move forward. Let me be the first to admit my own impatience, and pledge a new start.
For HI USA, promoting tolerance is part of our purpose, and it goes way beyond personal points of view. A more tolerant world includes not prejudging others on the basis of individual qualities such as race, color, religion, political affiliation, gender, gender expression, age, disability and sexual orientation. Our tolerance involves being accepting that others have the right to be who they are.
For us, travel is a journey that helps each to define our common humanity, and the hostel stay plays an important role. Our hostels are a safe space for travelers and community members to learn about others and themselves. Our programs like Explore the World Travel Scholarships and IOU Respect build bridges for international exchange, while our hostels deliver local opportunities for interaction and understanding. And our volunteers and staff create a welcoming climate that encourages conversation and exchange among diverse audiences.
Our work has never seemed so timely.