Do we need to leave to overcome barriers?

It’s time to put keyboard anger aside. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
It’s time to put keyboard anger aside. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
A friend of mine is heading offshore to attend an amazing conference on the future of food.

When she was telling me about it, I surprised myself by saying: "that’s so fantastic — I really need to get my brain out of New Zealand."

Where did that statement come from? I love Dunedin, I love New Zealand and I hate sitting in international airports — what’s with my Kiwi-bashing?

I have always said, the best thing about travel is not seeing mountains or architecture, or even the food (sigh!) — the best thing about travelling is cracking open your mind.

New Zealand has a small population. When I open my local paper and get hit with the court news and see someone featured for doing some dodgy deed who I went to high school with, it all gets a bit claustrophobic, or depressing, I am not sure which.

Well get over it, Anna. Skip the court news for breakfast ... Oh my Lord, there is a national backlash against a Country Calendar episode (which I quite enjoyed) where the keyboard warriors have become feral — I am beyond claustrophobic.

I can’t help but think that as a nation, when we are isolated and left too much to our own devices, we become a bit thin-skinned and small-minded. Is it tall poppy syndrome? Perhaps. Who would want to stand out given the Country Calendar debacle? But I think it’s more a case of us being too much within our own echo chambers and not embracing diversity of thought.

Today’s polarising of arguments means that if you are brave enough to open your mouth, you end up in one of two camps: "a woke snowflake" or "a bigoted misogynist" — there’s not much in between.

I am not really blaming any of this on New Zealand. Many cultures seem to be having similar challenges, but opening our borders does feel like a shift in the right direction.

What’s the first thing that happens when we travel to a new area or country? Usually, I move straight into learning mode. What do I need to know about the culture, the market, their business practices? How am I going to get from A to B and how can I be safe in my journey?

No matter my planning, inevitably when I reach new shores, I am blown out of my safety net — my own bed, car, route to work and timetabling is shattered; the way people do things is shattered. My brain is given one almighty shake-up — I have to adapt to survive. I am forced to open up, be vulnerable, ask for help and try to understand cultures I am unfamiliar with.

All of that helps me to grow and to be less sure of my own view of the world.

In the Country Calendar episode, the Lake Hawea Station owners spoke of a need to listen to their customers — in this case, elite European fashion houses. They had those conversations, they adapted their culture and we judged — even though we weren’t part of the conversations. We are good at that, judging and slamming down people who think or act differently.

Do we have to leave New Zealand’s borders to crack our minds open?

No, but it probably makes the discomfort process easier. A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to be able to visit Waitangi and become exposed to our bicultural history in a way I never have been before. The experience was humbling and empowering. As I tried to get a tenuous grasp of te ao Maori — the Maori world view — my way of thinking was challenged and I questioned my understanding of our shared history. I didn’t need to go to the other side of the world after all. I just had to be willing to explore.

What’s the moral of the story? Forget the keyboard anger — "life is short and the world is wide."

 - Anna Campbell is co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company. She also holds various directorships.