During my time in the Marine Corps, I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and did my 4-year enlistment there. And one thing we did often was deploy for exercises in South Korea. If you have never been to South Korea, it is an exciting place, and I would often joke that it felt like America, except they didn’t speak English.
During those deployments, we would be there for a month at a time usually and would ride over on what they called a High-Speed Vessel, but it was just a fancy giant car ferry, but it worked because it could move 800 Marines and a lot of cargo. Being on a car ferry in the middle of a lake is one thing; being on it in the middle of the ocean is an entirely different thing, we nicknamed it the Vomit Commit, and it would take about 30 hours one way to get there.
It wasn’t always work while we were there, and we had many chances to get to see different sites and get liberty near some of the military installations like Osan Air Force Base.
The most memorable trip while there was to get the chance to see the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which is the border between North and South Korea. Depending on how crazy things are with North Korea, the base on this side of the border Camp Casey isn’t always open to visitors.
On my last trip before leaving the Marines, I got lucky enough to go on a tour. Nothing can explain what it is like going to the tiny blue houses and watch North Koreas look at you with binoculars through the windows. You might remember the blue houses in the news from when President Trump visited or President Clinton.
Even more interesting is that you can go into those blue houses, which sit equally half on the Southside and half on the Northside, and this is the part where you get to stand on North Korean soil and now claim I have been to North Korea.
But why tell you this story today?
What that opportunity and experience showed me is just how little we truly understand the world, not just the world, but as others see it as well.
Whether it be an issue with your parents, spouse, kids, or work, we never truly get a chance to see the other side.
How many people hear about North Korea on the news and have no idea what it’s like there. Or the reality that I remind myself often is that if they were to go to war again, 10 million would be dead in the first hours because Soul is just 20 minutes from the border.
Perspective is everything, and as a society, we often spend very little time slowing down to understand how others see things.
Or I see this often when my oldest daughter comes home from school, and she had a rough day; it can be easy for me to dismiss what she feels because I wasn’t there or brush it off like it just doesn’t matter because she has her whole life ahead of her. But I will create a much better relationship if I sit down and understand how she saw the world that day.
It builds empathy.
It builds trust.
It builds a relationship.
And when she is 16, I hope she will trust I will slow down to listen because early in her life, I listened to the little things so that later she would bring me the big things.
So, like the time I went to North Korea, taking every opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes is always a meaningful exercise that even 15 years I remember it like it was yesterday.