Travels With Lao-Tzu

I’d like to update that famous Lao-Tzu “A Journey of a Thousand Miles” saying for the modern age of air travel to read: “A Journey of 23,244 Miles Begins With a Single Mouse Click.”

Now you might be saying to yourself “23,244 miles seems like a very large number — and also a suspiciously specific figure for Justin to pick.1

23,244 miles is almost the full distance around the Earth at the Equator.

It is also, as close as I can figure it, the exact distance of a round-trip flight from New York City through Frankfurt, Singapore, Bangkok that will return me to Luang Prabang, Laos in two weeks time.

Where The Journey Begins

Seven months ago, my wife and I arrived in Luang Prabang while on our honeymoon. We walked into a community library one afternoon and met kids who wanted to practice their English with us. We met Carol Kresge who ran the library. We talked with Justin Spelman, who was pitching in and helping around the Library while starting up his own science education organization.

It was only a few hours of our time, but something about that library and those people stuck to us. Some places are like that — leaving a residue on your thoughts as you continue your travels.

We kept in touch with Carol and Justin from the moment we left. We read more about each of their groups, wondering if we could help them out in any way.

And now I’m returning to Laos to do just that.

What I’m Doing

I am volunteering two weeks of my time to work with Carol and Justin’s Non-Profit Groups: The Language Project and Village Science. They work to assist hundreds of Lao students and I plan to bring them as many cameras, computers, and other needed supplies as I am able to collect and safely carry without collapsing. For their staff, I am bringing tools to organize and help them focus on their core missions while creating new partnerships with people and groups who can help them.

In other words, I am spending a not-so-small chunk of money to go there and do for free what I charge people money for here in New York.

But it’s not about the money or the distance. Whether its one thousand miles or twenty-three thousand miles, Lao-Tzu’s epigram suggests something deeper: If the whole journey exists in that first step, what journeys are only a step away for any of us?

Cashing The Check

A few weeks ago, I read a post by author, businessman, and fellow head-shaver Seth Godin. It was called “Cashing The Check” and it voices the reason I’m going to Laos. An excerpt:

“A check in your wallet does you very little good. It represents opportunity, sure, but not action. Most of us are carrying around a check, an opportunity to make an impact, to do the work we’re capable of, to ship the art that would make a difference.”

Seth published this on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and, in case his message wasn’t clear enough, he closed with a bit of King’s famous speech to the Riverside Church in 1967:

“”We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words “Too late.””

Godin’s blog posts are direct and have a sort of sparse, Zen-like quality about them — like he is placing a single leaf of an idea into a river and floating it downstream for his readers to consider.

But I don’t think that Seth was gently setting leaves into the river this time.

I think it was the in-your-face side of Zen.

“What are you doing to make an impact on your world?”, it asks.

And what the hell are you waiting for?

Welcome To Today

So King said “Tomorrow is today”, but he left out the other part: It’s only today at the moment that people decide that it is. 2

Maybe it became today for me when I took that deep breath and clicked the “BUY TICKET NOW” button. Time will tell — but whether I call it “Lao-Tzu’s Step” or “Check Cashing”, I knew that I wanted to try to do more.

And so I begin my journey with this simple step in that direction.

What’s Next

The step that follows is this: I am starting a Giveaway to raise awareness and call attention to these two awesome groups. There will be prizes — Oh yes! — prizes of many sizes. If you like the travel and tech-related stuff I write about here, you won’t want to miss it.

Follow the Twitter feed if you want to be notified the moment it’s announced and, in the meantime, check out my Laos page to read a little more about Village Science and The Language Project.

  1. If you like to use metric distances when you talk to yourself, feel free to substitute “37,407 kilometers” []
  2. Kind of like what’s been happening in North Africa lately… []