Planning a Trip Around the World – Part 1 – First Steps

I’ve been meaning to do this blog post for a year and a half now, and have finally gotten around to it.  With the world at a standstill right now, perhaps people are fantasizing about the day when they can travel once again.  Maybe you are thinking of taking an even bigger leap and taking an extended period of time to travel to different parts of the globe.

If you are considering such an adventure, this series of posts is meant to be an introduction and give some lessons I learned and that I wish I had known before I embarked upon my adventure.  It is by no means an all-inclusive guide.  It is simply some general ideas and tips.

Step 1: Start reading about trips around the world and similar long term travel. 

This is the learning and dreaming stage.  You’ll be taking this from abstract idea a bit closer to concrete reality.

The research can be in the form of books, articles, or online.  One book I read early in my thought process of this was By Men or By the Earth by Tyler Coulson.  It was about a young man who decided to walk across America.  I had come across a free electronic version of the book, and it was OK, but nothing special.  Yet it did help give me some insight into the emotional toll of such a journey.

About a year and a half before my trip as I began to get serious about it, I bought The Rough Guide to First Time Around the World.  This book was extremely helpful on a lot of the practical aspects of planning such a trip.

As I got closer to my journey, I found that www.nomadicmatt.com was a great resource.  The creator of the site, Matthew Kepnes, has been consistently travelling for about ten years.  It also has a much more inclusive guides and detailed articles on the subjects I just briefly touch upon here like finances and medical insurance among many others.

Maybe at some point, I’ll finally finish my own book on my journey, then you might be able to add that one to the list … you never know.  Or you can always go back and look at my past blog posts….

Step 2: Begin formulating some big picture ideas of your journey

This doesn’t have to be any detailed planning, just some slightly more specific idea of what you envision your specific journey being.

How long will you travel?  Will it be one long trip of a few months to a year or so?  Or will it be an open-ended lifestyle where you spend months on the road and then return home for a short while at a time?

What kind of a budget will you have on your trip?  Will you try to work as you go?  Will you work locally where you visit or will you be a digital nomad, working remotely or freelancing?

Will you not work at all and simply travel?  Or maybe you’ll study?  Or perhaps volunteer like I did?

It will likely be some mixture of all these possibilities that is unique to you.

Step 3:  Start looking for specific opportunities that fit into your idea and begin making arrangements

For me, this was the stage where I found the YMCA Prints of Hope program in Colombia (now called YMCA COLead3rs).  I knew I wanted something where I could work and earn a little bit of money, and I was in the process of my nonprofit management program through UCLA-Extension, so I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. This program was the original building block for my trip.

From there, there were certain aspects of the journey that I also wanted to include.  I wanted to hit all seven continents; I wanted to do an ocean crossing on a sail boat; I wanted to volunteer in a variety of sectors; I wanted to take some unique classes, like Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple in China.  These general ideas helped me to begin to formulate some ideas and plans regarding my plan of travel.

However, it is important not to over plan and have a tight and rigid schedule.  Because things will go wrong and change.  So being flexible is critical.  You might misread the visa requirements for your connecting flights through Venezuela, and be stuck in an airport trying to rearrange flights at the last minute.  (cough)  Or realize that your passport if filling up and you have to get a new one and then need to extend your stay in a country while it is getting processed (cough, cough).

As you travel, you’ll also learn about new activities that you want to try.  Or you’ll learn that as you plan your travels, you’ll be in a location around the time as a big festival, so you’ll want to arrange your travel to hit that.  Maybe you’ll already be in Europe in the fall, so why not hit Oktoberfest or something.  In my case, I realized my travels would have me in Asia in the January and February timeframe, so I arranged my travel so I would be in China for Chinese New Year and in India for Holi a few weeks later.

Here are some programs that can help you find different work and volunteer programs.  Going through a professional program can help with paperwork and visas, while going through a matching program like Workaway is cheaper.

International Exchange of North America

Workaway

International Volunteer HQ

BUNAC

GoAbroad

Step 3: Classes and Workshops for Needed Skills

This is something I really didn’t do, but I wish I had.  This might be done far in advance, or just in the last few weeks before you leave (or even during the course of your trip).  However, depending on the type of trip you want to take and what you want to do, it might be beneficial to start taking some classes or attending some workshops well in advance.

For example, if you are going to be spending a significant amount of time somewhere that speaks a language you aren’t fluent in, it would be good to at least take a beginner’s course.  In my case, the majority of my time was spent in South America.  Luckily, I’d already studied Spanish, but in the last few weeks before I left, I was watching Spanish-speaking shows, listening to music, and going thru Duolingo.

I wish I had done an introductory photography workshop prior to leaving.  I didn’t think at all about photography until my trip to Antarctica, halfway through my journey, when there were a couple of workshops on the ship.  That opened up my eyes, and I think there is a definite improvement in my photos and videos after that trip.  A simple one day workshop before I started my journey would have likely meant far better pictures and videos from my time in South America.

If you are considering blogging or travel writing or trying to get followers on Instagram, you really need to do some research and look into the details.  I had it in the back of my mind that I might try blogging for a wider audience, other than family & friends. But after meeting people during my trip that actually did do that kind of thing, I realized how involved it really is.  So if you’re considering it, make sure you do the front-end work and prepare yourself.

It also would be a good idea to look into a basic self-defense or personal safety class, especially if you can find one geared towards travelers.  If nothing else, at least research some tips and tactics online (which is what I did).  This is one of those skills you hope you never have to use, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How early or late you do these classes and workshops will vary based on your specific needs and your starting point.  And some of them can wait until the trip itself.  I wanted to learn to SCUBA dive, but I decided it would be pretty awesome for my first time to be on the Great Barrier Reef.  Which it was!

Step 4: Begin making work and financial arrangements

Eventually you will need to figure out what you will do regarding work, assuming you already have a job.  Will you take a leave of absence or sabbatical?  Will you be able to work remote?  Or will you just quit?  (I quit mainly because they would only give me a three month leave of absence and I kind of wanted to be open-ended.)  However, I also delayed my trip by six months because I knew I had a promotion and raise coming soon, and I wanted to take advantage of that for both financial and career reasons.

Financially, there are a lot of arrangements that should be made well in advance.  I started about 2-3 months before I left, but I should have done so long before that.

One recommendation I would make is to get a travel credit card as soon as possible, if you don’t have one already.  I got the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and the bonus points for signing up as well as the general rewards points were an incredible help on my trip.  My flights from South America to Australia (with a layover in New Zealand), and then from Australia to Greece (with a layover in Dubai) were all paid for with those reward points.  Additionally, a card like that will also cover Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check, so if you’ll be coming in and out of the USA, that is a great perk to have.  An even better perk was the Priority Pass lounge access.  This gets you into thousands of airport lounges around the globe.  Over my year and a half of travel, the amount of food, drinks, and WIFI I received in these lounges likely covered the annual fee of the credit card.

Other rewards programs (like hotel and airlines) are something else to get set-up.  I parlayed my Marriott points into occasional “luxury” nights during layovers.  So look for ways to take advantage of travel programs. When considering travel credit cards and travel rewards programs, The Points Guy is a valuable resource.

Another financial consideration will be to open a checking account with an ATM card that has no foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees at all.  I use the Schwab Investor Checking Account.  Trust me, it is such a relaxing feeling when you don’t have to worry about insane fees.

One related financial/legal consideration that I did, and am extremely glad I did since I knew I wanted to be out of the country exclusively, was working out an arrangement with my dad to grant him Power of Attorney.  This is something that I don’t remember reading in any guide, and I don’t remember how exactly how we came up with the idea to do it, but assuming you have someone you trust almost completely, I think it is a wise decision.  If something bad would have happened to me, it would have granted my father more power in dealing with authorities and with my personal affairs than he would have simply as a parent.  He would have been able to file my taxes for me if I wasn’t able to.  The one aspect where we did utilize it was when I needed him to complete a significant financial transaction for me while I was in Peruvian village, with no way to submit legal paperwork.

As part of this deal, we also set-up a joint checking account.  This way, we could easily transfer money in and out of that account, and to each other without dealing with wire transfers and the like.

(Along with the power of attorney, if you want to be truly prepared, even if you don’t want to think about this, a last will and similar planning would be smart as well.)

A final note on the aspect of financial items, it is also critical to have spare cards and accounts to be safe.  This was one where I was extremely glad to have done this.  I was pick-pocketed in Bogota the day before I was supposed to go on a trip to the coast.  It was going to take a few days to get the replacements.  But luckily, I had spare cards.  So other than putting me in a bad mood for a couple of days, it didn’t really affect my trip to the coast.

Step 5: Other long-lead logistical items

Aside from work and finances, there are some other tasks you need to take care of long before your trip.

Get the 52-page passport.  Regular passports are 28 pages, and you can no longer order extra pages after the fact.  This oversight led to me not being able to go to Victoria Falls, and instead had to scramble to find a new project to stay in Kenya for four weeks instead of the originally planned two.

Similarly, make sure you check on any visa requirements for countries you want to visit.  The timing of these can be tricky.  Some visas you can only apply for in a certain window before your trip.  Other visas can only be applied for in your home country.  These can cause bureaucratic headaches, so you want to have a handle on this in advance.

Vaccinations are critical.  Some vaccinations are spread out over a period of months and if you don’t start early enough, you might end up trying to find your second Hepatitis booster in a country that doesn’t have it (cough). That being said, it can be cheaper to do some vaccinations in other countries.  I got my yellow fever and rabies vaccinations done in Colombia because they were significantly cheaper than doing them in the USA.

Similarly, medical insurance is another critical need.  There are many options for global health insurance for travelers and many resources to find out information.  A couple of important points though.  First, your credit card might have travel insurance, and it might cover some very specific medical expenses, but it is not the same as regular medical insurance.  Secondly, these travel medical plans are not as comprehensive as your standard medical insurance, with a large list of exemptions.  These are mostly geared to cover you for sudden sickness and/or accidents, not regular medical care.  Although the plan I had through IMG Global did include some preventative care, such as a routine physical, AFTER I had been covered for a full year.  But they only covered some of my tests.  So you need to be careful and read the fine print of these plans.  The process of getting insurance may take a while, as you might need to get approval and give them medical records.  Therefore, get started on this rather far in advance.

Next in Part 2: What to Bring

In the second part of this “guide”, I’ll go through a packing list.  This will be as your trip is getting closer, within the next couple of months, and you need to start gathering your gear for your adventure.

People May Be Dumb, but They’re Also Basically Good

With all of us on edge and frustrated about the coronavirus situation, I think it would be a good time for me to share one of the fundamental lessons I’ve learned throughout my life, and especially in my journey around the world.

People are basically good, and generally want to do the right thing. 

However, there are two major barriers for most people that can negate our good intentions: self-interest and ignorance (or incompetence). Maybe we want to give more to charity, but we also want to buy something we’ve had our eye on for a while.  Or perhaps we tried to help someone, but we ended up making it worse because we didn’t really know what we were doing.

These failings are OK. They are a part of being human.  But the important thing to remember is that other people are human as well. They have their own weak spots and failings just like I have my own and you have your own.  They usually don’t mean to hurt someone, it is just that they weren’t aware or were so interested in their own circumstances, that they didn’t consider how it might affect others.

(This doesn’t mean that there never is evil intent.  I am just saying that it isn’t common.  Often times, even when evil acts are done, it is because people have been manipulated into thinking that they are good.)

I want to introduce you to two “razors”.  Hanlon’s Razor and Occam’s Razor.  A philosophical razor is an argument that allows you to cut away unlikely explanations.  They aren’t absolute by any means, but they are based more on generally accepted likelihood.

Hanlon’s Razor is not to assume something is based on malice when it can easily be explained by ignorance or incompetence.  For example, do you really think your spouse was purposely trying to upset you when they didn’t do something you asked?  Or is it more likely that they just forgot, or did it wrong?

Hanlon’s Razor is based on Occam’s Razor, which (overly-simplified) stipulates that when comparing possible explanations, the simplest explanation is more likely.  Now, admittedly Occam’s Razor has major weaknesses, especially in scientific fields, when things can be counter-intuitive and more complex than they appear.  But when discussing regular normal cause-and-effect situations and human interaction, it holds more weight.  An example is would the average person rather just go and turn off a light switch, or would they build an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to accomplish the task?  Or something I often joke about: Did I simply trip over my own giant clown feet or did the earth suddenly shift and the sidewalk jump up and trip me? Theoretically, the latter is possible, but it’s unlikely.

The reason I bring these concepts up is the recent protests against the restrictive measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.  It is important for all of us to remember, on all sides, whatever your position may be, that in general, the vast majority of people have good intentions during this time.  That doesn’t mean they are correct, but the reasons for their failings are mostly likely simple human fallibility rather than nefarious intent.

Our government leaders and public health officials are generally trying their best to face an unprecedented health crisis.  We need to keep the impossibility of their task in mind if and when we criticize them, and not suspect that they have dishonorable intentions.  Yes, perhaps they might go too far, and perhaps they should be more flexible depending on specific localities. Maybe they should put more consideration into the economic impact of their edicts. These are all legitimate concerns that can be shared, but in a responsible manner.  Which means, (1) complaints and protest actions should still be done while following guidelines to prevent spread of infection and (2) respectfully assuming good intentions rather than some kind of a power-grab.  (I’ll talk more about this second one later.)

Meanwhile, we have to also assume that those protesting are doing so out of genuine frustration and economic uncertainty.  Yes there are legitimate criticisms about their methods of protest and many of their sources of information, but again that goes to the point of assuming fallibility rather than questioning their motivation.  Instead of dismissing them their concerns and mocking them, these people need to be heard and responded to in a considerate and respectful manner. Otherwise, it just adds to the divisive nature of current society.

Now, having discussed Hanlon’s razor and assuming good intentions, I want to switch to Occam’s Razor. I would be remiss not to call out an irrational criticism in our specific situation: that these strict measures are encroachments of an authoritarian government. As Occam’s Razor would argue, the simpler solution that public health and government officials are being overly strict out of an overabundance of caution to contain the virus is much more likely than a coordinated effort by the elites across multiple local, state, and federal organizations of differing partisan leanings all for the goal of controlling the masses.

I could go into an extremely long post about this, but I want to keep this somewhat brief. I encourage you to do more reading into the concepts I’ll bring up for more detail.

  • The beauty of the federal system that the Framers set up was that it would be extremely difficult for an authoritarian regime to take complete control of all the different levels of government; not necessarily impossible, but extremely difficult.
  • The fact that these governments are run by Republicans and Democrats across the spectrum add to the unlikeliness that this is some coup attempt.
  • Most of these actions are on the recommendations of public health professionals. And these are individual experts at the local, state, and federal levels. The nice thing about the hard sciences (like medicine) as opposed to politics, or economics, or media punditry, is that there is objectivity. In STEM fields like medicine, you can’t bullshit your way to the top.  You generally can’t spin and deflect blame.  So the idea that somehow thousands of public health professionals got to the position they are in while harboring intent for eventual domination of the citizenry is simply ludicrous.  (Again, you can legitimately state that they are singularly focused on the medical/healthcare aspect and ignoring the economic impact, but that gets back to human fallibility as opposed to malicious intent.)

Those are my main points based on Occam’s Razor and the complexity of this all being an authoritative encroachment in the USA.  However, we should discuss the actual risks of authoritarianism.  If you are truly concerned about this, you should do some research.

First of all, this crisis can be and is being used by some regimes to increase control.  For example, look at what is happening in Hungary where Viktor Orban has been granted power to indefinitely rule by decree during the pandemic, adding to the powers he has gathered over the past decade.

In the modern USA, authoritarianism is extremely difficult, if not impossible, at the local and state levels.  Even in the days of Boss Tweed and Huey Long, it wasn’t so much about controlling the day-to-day lives of the masses as it was controlling the political and economic machinery of their state through corruption.

Which gets to the fundamental point about authoritarianism. I highly encourage you to actually research authoritarianism throughout history, not via political pundits, but actual researched history, especially modern history.  (I highly recommend How Democracies Die). Using the media and elites to completely control the media happens AFTER a totalitarian regime already has almost complete control.

When first attempting to gain control of a population and in the initial stages of power, aspiring authoritarians operate the OPPOSITE way. They actively appeal to the support of the masses against the elites (the independent media, the academics, the professionals.)  That way instead of turning to the “knowledge gatekeepers” who usually got to that position out of a pursuit for the knowledge and love for the field itself, the people instead turn to the regime and allow it to be the “knowledge gatekeeper” where the regime wants that position solely for the pursuit of power.

Again, look at what has happened throughout history. Once the Nazi’s came to power in Germany, many of the top academics and scientists fled (which actually helped us win WWII).  During Stalin’s Great Purge, academics and journalists were sent to gulags.  China’s Cultural Revolution closed schools and  later sent students to live and work on farms in rural villages. In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, much of the professional class fled to the USA.  In the Khmer Rouge, they murdered people that wore eyeglasses because they seemed intellectual.

In the how to guide for the power hungry, Machiavelli’s The Prince, he often discusses that having the support of the people is more critical than the support of the nobles.  The elite and nobles are a threat to the regime’s power while the people’s support helps to keep power.

So the idea that a bunch of local and state leaders are allying with the academic elite of public health officials to force draconian measures on the regular populace in a bid to gain more power is a little hard to swallow for anyone that has studied history and politics.

However, never say never. I guess anything is possible, and perhaps it all is an elaborate coup attempt.  However, if it is, it seems like the most elaborate, ineffective, historically-ignorant, and counter-productive coup attempt in the history of the world.

Matt’s Essential Reading List #6

It has been a long delay since my last post of recommended books, but here are the next five books on my eventual list of 50 essential books everyone should read.

With the current time we are now spending at home, maybe you have begun reading some more.  Or at least maybe you would like to start reading some more.  I think all of the books on this list might be good ones to read during this time.

A reminder of my guiding criteria:

  • Prestige of the author and/or book
  • Readability/Approachability
  • Subject Matter
  • Quality
  • Perspective

I also try to select the books from different categories: Self-Improvement/Philosophical; Fiction; Biography/Memoir; Academic/Expository/Analysis; and an Open category for extras

Another reminder: a * denotes that the book is also on Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”


*Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transform the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by [Brené Brown]

Self-Improvement /Philosophical

In my first list, I mentioned that if I could only recommend one book to people it would be Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl would almost definitely be the one.  However, this book is a close second, and it might actually be number one specifically for teachers and parents.

In fact, with this unprecedented, sudden, and stressful move towards remote and home learning, this might be a good book to read as you deal with some of the challenges that you and your children and students might be facing.

Brené Brown has a TED talk that is one of the most viewed ever.  This talk is a great introduction into what she writes about in Daring Greatly.  The general idea is simply to live life fully by willing to take risks and put yourself on the line.  The title is inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” quote from his Citizenship in a Republic speech.  This should also give you an idea of the theme of the book.


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein 

Fiction

The film adaptation came out last summer, and while I haven’t seen it myself, I’ve heard that, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t come close to living up to the source material.

This is one of the few books that I literally could not put down.  I started reading it in bed one night and did not stop until finishing it at around 3 or 4 AM.  It was that good.

The story is told through the eyes of Enzo, the faithful dog to Denny a race-car driver just starting out, through an eventful life.  He discusses human life with a philosopher’s bend, hoping that in his next life, he just might become human himself.

And yes, this book will make you cry (my eyes are tearing up just thinking about it… damnit).


Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson   – Open 

Really this could be any one of the collections.  If you were a child of the 80s/90s, you better agree that this was the greatest comic strip ever, otherwise, we simply can’t be friends.  That may be harsh, but I just don’t think it would be safe to trust you.  You might not even be human; and in fact, you are probably really some Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goon!

Appropriately named after philosophers, Calvin & Hobbes provide the greatest imaginable philosophical commentary on childhood and life itself. Genius is too simple a word to describe the comic that gave this wonderfully cynical observation:

“Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”

Spend this time at home rediscovering the magic of Calvin & Hobbes; and introduce the next generation to this classic if it hasn’t happened yet.

Special Note: If you have Amazon Prime: you can download the Essential Calvin and Hobbes Collection for free onto a tablet.


Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt

Academic/Expository/Analysis 

This is one of those books that is truly eye-opening.  If for no other reason than the fact that after you read it, you think about common knowledge and situations in a completely different manner.  If you truly try to internalize the lessons from Freakonomics, or its sequel SuperFreakonomics, or the podcast that the authors started, you find yourself looking much deeper at social and scientific phenomena.


*Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen)

Biography/Memoir Out of Africa by [Isak Dinesen]

This is a memoir by an upper-class European women about her time running a farm in colonial Kenya in the early part of the 20th century.  It also inspired an Oscar-winning movie of the same name.  Since this book was already on the Amazon list that I’m trying to make my way through, I already was planning on reading it, and I decided there was not better time than while I was in Kenya myself.

Blixen describes the beauty of Kenya far better than I ever could and serves as an inspiration to those that dream about seeing the vast African savanna.  She does a great job (considering the time that she lived in and wrote) of describing two of the local cultures she dealt with near her farm, the Kikuyu and the Masai.

The book reads like a wistful love letter to Africa and the experiences that Blixen had in her two decades there.  This is a book for those who are romantic, not necessarily in terms of relationships, but romantic about life and the world in general.

Perhaps this book will spark your spirit of adventure and wanderlust so you can start thinking about an exotic trip once we can begin travelling again!

Simple 4-Week Project While at Home

I was already wanting to do this post, but I was trying to figure out a good time.  And now that people are staying at home and all the news is focused on coronavirus, this seems like the perfect time.  I think, in this hyper-partisan environment, it would be beneficial for people to take a break from the news, especially the editorials, that reinforce our preconceptions and instead focus on some personal growth.

This is based on one of my favorite projects I would assign when I was teaching high school government.  Students had to research and defend both sides of a controversial issue.  They had to write a persuasive paper on one side of the issue and then do a presentation arguing the other side. The idea was to challenge their preconceived notions and learn more about opposing viewpoints

Using that as a baseline, I came up with this four-week project to foster some personal growth and, hopefully, better understanding of people with differing opinions.

I will readily admit that this might come off as condescending, and I apologize if so.  But I hope you’ll at least give me the benefit of the doubt in that I mean well and am trying to foster mutual understanding and a more productive level of discourse as opposed to the typical partisan bickering. With that being said, here’s my relatively simple project that you can do over the next few weeks.

Week 1:

Avoid most of the news.  Obviously, you should pay attention to critical information like announcements from your local health officials and the like.  But you can take a break from national and international news for some time.  More than likely, those items will be outside your sphere of influence and will serve little practical purpose for you in immediate future.  (This is just t a short break, I’m not saying to tune out for ever.)  And more importantly, absolutely avoid all opinion pieces and pundits.  Whatever your political leanings, avoid them all: Hannity, Maddow, Sharpton, Limbaugh, turn them all off.  Their main objective is not to inform you but to rile you up, which is the exact opposite of what you need to be a rational citizen.

Instead of that noise, read about or watch documentaries on something you are interested in.  It doesn’t really matter what as long as there is an intellectual curiosity.  IMPORTANT NOTE: Intellectual curiosity and morbid voyeurism are completely separate things.  Find something that will stimulate your mind, not something that just appeals to your base senses. To be crystal clear on this, even if it is a “documentary series” – I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT DAMN “TIGER KING” GARBAGE!  Watch a real documentary on actual tigers instead.  Whatever your interests may be, watch or read something that can help you LEARN more about it.  Ideally, you’ll find a few books or articles or shows or films that will help ignite some sparks of intellectual curiosity.

There is a reason I specifically mention “intellectual curiosity” a couple of times.  A study found that curiosity fosters understanding and a willingness to accept new information far more than pure knowledge. We need to foster this curiosity in order to have progress.

Week 2:

This next part will be the first of two big steps, depending on your level of curiosity.  Beyond your personal topics of interest that you’ve been learning about, I am going to ask you to learn about something a bit more specific.  Start to read about or watch videos/lessons on basic psychology, or philosophy, or metacognition, or something similar.  Basically, try to learn a bit about how we think and what we hold to be important in our thought and decision-making processes.

The only truly specific aspect of this subject you need to study as a part of this is on logic and reasoning.  Learn what constitutes a logically sound position and, on the flip side, the variety of logical fallacies that people may fall into.

I’m not asking you to read the original writings of Plato, or Freud, or anything like that.  Just read some Wikipedia articles or something to introduce yourself to a bit of it.

I realize you might not be interested in these subjects.  However, if you are willing to spout your own opinions on a political issue and dismiss the opinions of others, you should also be willing to learn a bit about why people may think the way they do.  Including yourself….

Week 3:

… which leads me to the third step of this project, and what may be the most difficult for many.

Truly question yourself.  Why do you think what you think?  Why do you believe what you believe?  How can you be sure you are right?

I realize in the constant stimulation of the modern world, it might be difficult to do, especially if you have a family, but try and find some quiet time for reflection.  Maybe on a walk, or just sitting in a quiet place.  Maybe even just a few extra minutes in the shower.  Perhaps something you read or saw regarding some philosophical concept or a hypothetical ethical dilemma that was posed pushes you to do some deeper thinking than you have done in a long while.

But the fundamental purpose of this week is to question almost everything you have taken for granted to be true.

Week 4:

This is the final stage.  Ideally, you should already be mentally prepared from the previous two weeks.

It is basically the assignment I gave to my students.  Pick a controversial issue that you have a long-held strong belief about.  Now spend this week trying to make the best good-faith defense of the opposing viewpoint you can.  Pretend you are on a debate team or something similar, where you must promote and defend that opposing viewpoint.  You need to convince people to agree with that opposing viewpoint.

Make the absolute strongest argument you can for that opposing viewpoint, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.  This is known as the “steel man” approach, as opposed to the “straw man” logical fallacy that is so often used.  I often told my students at the end of the assignment, if nothing else, they should at least have become better prepared to defend their own original position, as this is the point of steel man preparation.

However, the more important objective was for students to gain a better understanding of people that have differing viewpoints.  The vast majority of the time, the differing viewpoints have just as much validity as your own.  We need to avoid taking the easy and cowardly approach of simply demonizing those that have differing opinions.

At the end of this four weeks, it is my hope that you will have learned a little more about yourself and have become a little more attuned to people of different perspectives.  Ideally, this would lead you to be able to have constructive dialogue with such people rather than self-destructive demonization.  Because now more than ever, instead of blaming each other for problems, we need to come together and fix them.