Mar 25, 2011 Herm Card Uncategorized
Anyone in the packed Civic Center auditorium on March 15 that expected Rick Steves to present a slide show travelogue of his European adventures was probably surprised. Instead, Steves, the opening lecturer of the second half of the Friends of the Public Library’s Gifford Lecture Series, presented a passionate look at the world’s perception of America and American travelers.
Best known for his television travel shows for public broadcasting and his series of European travel guides, Steves is a passionate advocate for improving our global (and local) society. He’s an active member of the Lutheran church, a board member of NORML (working to reform marijuana laws in the USA) and has provided his local YWCA with a 24-unit apartment building with which to house homeless mothers.
Running some forty minutes beyond the typical lecture length, Steves encouraged us to travel as a means of educating ourselves, educating others about us, and in so doing, combating the effects of terrorism rather than becoming oppressed by its threat.
Operating on the theory that “The less we spend, the more we learn,” he encourages Americans to use travel as education rather than entertainment.
He was not hesitant to confront the two worlds in which he exists, the media and the travel industry.
He was adamant about the media’s negative effect on travel abroad, saying that the emphasis on the dangers to Americans far overstates the problem, and creates an unwarranted fear of travel. “Don’t stay home because you think it’s dangerous — Powerful forces are dumbing us down. We need to smarten up. The travel industry’s emphasis on entertainment (cruises are just hedonism) inhibits the ability of Americans to interact with locals, preventing both sides from learning about the other.”
“Travel should enhance, rather than just entertain. Americans have the shortest vacations in the rich world – we need to work less and live more.”
In his current book, “Travel as a Political Act,” he reflects on how a life of travel has broadened his own perspectives, and how travel can be a significant force for peace and understanding in the world. “We need to humanize and be humanized.” He said that until he began traveling to Europe (in 1969, visiting piano factories with his father, a piano importer) “all I knew about Europe was what I learned on the news from Ted Koppel”
“America’s problem abroad is a good will issue, a ‘brand’ issue. Our trade policy is far more unpopular than we are. People there do not dislike Americans unless we show up and try to tell them how to do things our way.”
He emphasized the need for Americans to learn about other cultures by meeting the people, connecting with them. “It (traveling in Europe) is a chance to hang out with people we wouldn’t ordinarily hang out with. Every country has its own spirit, its own energy. The people have their own dreams, their own goals – the more we learn about each other, the better off we’ll all be.”
The fact that he was interrupted several times by applause, showed that Steves’ words definitely struck a positive chord with the audience, and though his talk went too long for the typical Q and A at the end, there was really little left unanswered.
The Friends of the Public Library’s Gifford Lecture Series continues with author Alice Hoffman on April 12, and concludes for the season on May 10 with author David Baldacci. Click here for more information on the lecture series.