I teach philosophy and one major branch of philosophy is called "epistemology." Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It helps us understand what we know, why we know, and how we know. When I agreed to come on this trip to the Dominican Republic, I knew something very concretely: I was going to a whole other world.
It was a world completely alien to my American bubble. It was a world with poverty. But not just any poverty. America has poverty. This was going to be a world of abject poverty. A type of poverty barely imaginable to someone like myself. After all, my father was a college professor with a doctoral degree and my mother is a public school teacher with a masters degree. Plus, I live in the very posh town of Celebration, Florida. What I don't know about poverty is so immense it could fit inside the Grand Canyon. I was finally going to experience something different. This trip would transport me to a group of people with a completely different life than myself.
And then something happened...
When I got off the plane I was underwhelmed. When I drove through the Dominican Republic on the way to the hotel, I was underwhelmed. When I went to the bateyes, I was again underwhelmed. Now, this may seem cruel. It might seem apathetic, or uncaring. And at first, believe me, that thought concerned me. How could witnessing this new and alien environment not overwhelm me to the point of tears?
Then it hit me. I was underwhelmed not because I did not care, but rather because the new and alien world I thought I knew I was entering was not actually a new and alien world at all. I saw the same exact things I see everyday in the United States. I saw mothers loving their children. I saw friends laughing at a funny comment. I saw people going to and coming home from work. I saw people at bars blowing off steam with a bottle of beer and some billiards.
Suddenly, I realized what happened. The world is made up of lines and borders that differentiate towns, states, provinces, countries and continents. The United States is not the Dominican Republic. We do not share the same borders. But the truth I discovered this day is that, though countries may have borders, humanity does not.
This, though, highlights a very cruel irony: we seem to have an innate desire to create unnatural, man-made borders that differentiate mankind. We create borders based on race, religion, gender, political affliction, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation, among others. We create these borders specifically to differentiate ourselves. This act destroys the bond shared by all people. It makes us strangers to those we know the most. And I fell victim to this.
I now look back to what I concretely knew. What I knew was wrong. And it's something people have been wrong about since the earliest conception of man. I am not smart enough to know how to fix these issues. I am just one person. But at least I now know that I am never alone. We are all people.
~ Aaron Foley