Proust. And What (I Think) Every American Should Know about the Rest of the World

I have always wished I had the intellectual acuity to read In Search of Lost Time, the 4,000 page novel by Marcel Proust about, er, refer to the book title. And this easy-to-read article: One of these days, I will commit. In the meantime, I am happy enough with Proust’s wonderful observation about travel:

       “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

After almost three years of travel to more than 30 countries, my eyes are a little newer. Although being a privileged American gets in the way of seeing at times, travel has changed the context for how I think about my life and my country.

The most important of my non-scientific new-eyes observations are not surprising, and all are consistent with what I have always believed, but was just too preoccupied to think about much. If I had the power, I would ask every American to consider these ten things when they are thinking about what is best for their families and our world:

  1. Most people in the world are poor and lead difficult lives
  2. Most people are honest and kind
  3. Most countries are not plagued by gun violence and do not permit widespread ownership of guns
  4. People in most other countries value family and community ahead of making money and buying stuff
  5. Many countries have serious environmental problems related to unregulated corporate polluting. Serious, as in people are dying
  6. The US really is — uniquely — the land of opportunity for people who are not born into families with wealth and influence
  7. Wars sponsored by rich countries have inflicted every kind of suffering on millions of innocent people in poor countries who, increasingly, have no where to go
  8. People in countries that are geographically close to potential war zones and whose countries have been war zones have a different perspective on war from people in countries that have not been war zones and are not close to potential war zones
  9. American corporations have aggressively marketed junk food and soda in poor communities all over the world, creating serious health problems for children who have little access to medical care
  10. There are many places in the world where you can provide a family with electricity for the price of a nice dinner out, or provide a community with clean water for the price of a new dining room set

But don’t take my word for it….

If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.
— Marcel Proust


  1. My son took a bridge year “off” after high school, spending it in the Amazon jungle with a large family who appreciated all he could do to help them out – cutting down cane, trying to get their tiny town on Google maps so their tourist-related business might grow, playing guitar in the local church…. Seeing what that did for HIM (and traveling there later on, meeting them and exploring their country), it was clear to me that if we required our kids to do that kind of service (particiularly abroad) before entering college, America’s sense of itself and the rest of the world would change quickly.

    Not every kid would get it, not every one would have as positive experience as my son did, and some would probably get into some kind of trouble (not that they might not while here anyhow). But Americans need a small taste of what you’ve had a big helping of in the last few years.

  2. I like your list of ten, and the perfect photos you chose to accompany it. Thank you, Kim!

  3. Kim, you are *such* a mensch!

    My opinion, anyway.

    Love, Steve

    On Sun, May 13, 2018 at 7:45 PM, Camino Milagro wrote:

    > klmalcolm2014 posted: ” I have always wished I had the intellectual acuity > to read In Search of Lost Time, the 4,000 page novel by Marcel Proust > about, er, refer to the book title. And this easy-to-read article: >” >

  4. Great idea to encourage more foreign (or even domedtic) travel & volunteer experiences for high school age kids. For you, maybe getting on the high school speaking circuit is next on your list for the times you are “home”. I did developing country consulting work (clean energy) for 8 years, and know those experiences certainly widened my own eyes and knowledge of other ways. [And, I did some speaking to college and young-in-career folks about this.]

    1. Thanks — William Zinsser wrote Writing to Learn. I read it 30 years ago and it has since served me well. I didn’t know a thing about Proust (and know very little now).

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