The title of this post may seem a little odd. Defending joy? Especially in such an expansive and invigorating world as travel? Sure there are road bumps (missed flights, overbooked hostels, hitting the sauce a little too hard and being arrested on the Italian Riviera). You certainly need to guard against the propensity to let these things get you down… but defend? That implies a foe, an active adversary intending to steal your joy. Surely there are no such creatures?
Well, dear travellers, there are. Amongst the whole vast world of travel stories, adventure tales, and wander yarns, there are countless stories of people helping each other on the road; the kindness of strangers is a big draw for travelers, we want to experience the goodness of people outside of our own realm. See how others live their lives and try to contribute to theirs, while only hoping to take away a fresh perspective on our own lives.
Very rarely do you hear the tales of the unkind nature that some people show to you. It’s not happy, and it’s kind of a downer. And unless there’s a lot of blood and gore, it probably doesn’t sell that well, either. People don’t want to think ill of each other, and I am no exception. However, I believe it is important that these stories be told, if for no other reason than awareness. Awareness that, yes, there are people out there who will try to steal your joy; awareness that no, not everyone you meet that honestly needs your help will be receptive to receiving it.
When you are aware that these things can and will happen, you are better prepared to meet it. If your guard is already up, they will be able to steal less joy from you. You will be better able to retain your faith in the good people, and just walk away from the bad.
Now, what prompted this? I recently joined a site who’s sole purpose is to match people abroad who truly need volunteers with travellers who can help them. For no pay. You donate your time to their project (whether it be they need extra help around the house, a warm body for a hostel night shift, or improving their language skills, etc), and in return you get to stay with them. Sometimes they give you food, sometimes not. It depends on the host.
My first venture into this world was a couple in the UK who’s house had burned down, and they were in desperate need (obviously) of repairs. My heart was instantly engaged. I’d had fires almost destroy my home, and before I was born a house of my parents burned down due to a neighbor’s carelessness with a cigarette.
So I messaged the host:
I tried to be honest, open, and engaging. Since I am already in Europe and traveling in the area, I thought why not take time out of my vacation and help somebody. I’m currently in a position where I work less time than what they were asking and actually being paid. I received this in reply.
Should I have known from that simple response? Probably. I should have let it go. But my naive self read the email like this, “Hey, it all looks good except for one thing. We can’t really do that kind of flexible because of the distance we have to drive to the workplace. But you seem cool, to bad we can’t work together!”
So of course, always eager to clear up a misunderstanding, I responded:
First off, who am I kidding? I love being an au pair. Posh my behind. I get paid (I never realized you get paid for working in the real world… what witchcraft is this?) to do less work with more time free. However, it wasn’t about that for me. I want to connect with people and give to those who really need it. I simply wanted to get a feel for the vibe of the host.
I certainly received that with his next communication:
Well, alrighty then.
Let’s start with the obvious.
Crap, which is the most obvious??
OK, here goes again… first of all, he admits at the beginning that I misunderstood his communication. That immediately invalidates the supreme hostility contained in this email. If someone genuinely doesn’t understand you, the mature and adult way to deal with them is to gently say , “Hey, I think you misunderstood. It’s a no. Good luck!”
Secondly, renegotiation is offensive? Pardon my french, but like hell it is! People renegotiate terms when they are exchanging extremely hard labor for money. All I did was simply throw out an example, saying that I like being flexible and doing work whenever it was needed. The idea was that I didn’t mind being flexible as long as they were. I am barely brave enough to ask for a legit vacation day in a (paid) job!
Thirdly, hostile, much? Let’s assume that I am this horrible person that he is accusing me of being. That I shoved a “list of needs” (we’ll get to that gem in a minute) into his inbox saying “I want you to lessen the workload, bring me my breakfast every morning, and actually pay me for my time that I’m donating (!) to you”. Why on earth would you waste your time bantering with an idiot like that? What purpose does being hostile serve? If I really am that kind of a heartless, thoughtless bitch, I’d simply laugh at you. That doesn’t gain you anything. My brain can’t compute the pointlessness of hostility.
Fourthly – list of needs at a difficult time. At this point, he shows his motivations, and his reasons for his hostility.
Here, he is obviously, painfully showing the fact that he is self-conscious about asking for help on the internet. He tries to redirect his own discomfort by putting it off on somebody who (quite innocently) brought it to his attention that he is basically a charity case. His house burned down, and he can’t afford to rebuild it. Fair enough. But that doesn’t give you the right to thoughtlessly punish other people because of a simple misunderstanding on the internet.
He deliberately tried to offset his own shame for having to ask for help by stealing my joy. Too many people, when they are hurt, think it is unfair for others to be happy. Being in a position of need, where you are the one receiving, should make you the more open minded – instead, he looks to others to do that for him. I sorely wanted to engage him and point out this fact. However, because I do try to have compassion, and he is in a tough spot, I politely (I think he should look up the definition of this word) replied:
At this point, I sent the messages to my trash folder. Was I miffed? Yes, I was. I had extended a hand just to have it slapped away. Somebody had intentionally tried to steal a little of my joy, and I didn’t want to let them. So I let it go. I thought about how thankful I was that I had the knowledge and experience to recognize that it wasn’t me who was at fault. Then I started thinking about how other people may react to this same situation. I knew people in my immediate circle of friends who may have had their joy stolen.
That’s when I dug the messages out of the trash and began writing this post. Simply for the awareness. It’s fabulous to tell stories about the kindness of strangers, the giving of joy. But I think it’s equally, if not more, important to be aware of those who, without any joy of their own, want to lessen yours as well.
So go forth, travellers! Go into the world, and smile at everyone. Give of yourself. Accept from others.
But guard yourself. Guard your joy. That is for you, and nobody else.