My family and I strolled beside one of Venice's countless canals. On our right, picturesque Venetian houses rose against a blue sky; on the left, the green waters of the canal lapped against the stone walk, seagulls spun through the sunshine, and ornately painted gondolas glided gracefully past. We turned into a dark alley and, after an hour of navigating through Venice's winding labyrinth of walkways, we set foot in the Piazza de San Marco, St. Mark's Square. In front of St. Mark's Cathedral were hundreds of pigeons. We bought seed from a nearby vendor and, as we tossed it to the shrieking, fluttering birds, I saw a young Italian boy watching me. His dark eyes met mine, he said something in Italian, and we smiled and waved to each other. A Japanese tourist came up to me and motioned for me to take a picture of her feeding the birds. As I snapped the shot with her camera, I could hear an elderly German couple commenting on the scenery. In that moment, I discovered a fascination for people like nothing I had ever known before.
Ever since I was very young, I have felt a burning curiosity about other human beings. I was obsessed with reading stories about people from all over the world: Anna Pavlova and the Russian Ballet, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, and England's William Shakespeare, among others. When I moved to Germany at the age of eleven, it was as if a whole new world of stories had unfolded before me. There I met German children and explored their culture, a culture I found both strange and wonderful. Yet despite our differing cultures and languages, my young mind was quick to note that similarities between us abounded.
As I grew older, my perception of humanity deepened, and I began to notice more about the people I observed. My family and I traveled across Europe to England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia, and numerous other places, and I was soon aware that the varying multitudes I watched held secret stories of their own. Their expressions and words became clear. I could see the sorrow in the aged German storekeeper's face, the exuberance in the eyes of the young Irish boys in Killarney, and the tender love with which the young Italian mother played with her child in the doorway of a tiny Roman apartment building. The historical sites and works of art I visited further testified to the stories of the great men and women who once lived. I was struck, then, with a truth about life which has influenced my observations of mankind ever since.
The truth is this: Between all individuals there exists a connection which runs deeper than physical, cultural, and geographical differences. The connection is our human emotions, our human ambitions, namely, our humanity itself. It is the life of the person, the story behind their face, that one must learn to understand. Anna Pavlova, Cleopatra, and William Shakespeare may have lived in completely different time periods and cultures, yet at some point in their lives each must have experienced some of the same emotions felt by that beaming little Italian boy, joyfully feeding the birds. Though differing languages and cultures may separate mankind, the ties which bind us are much stronger than we often consider them to be. This knowledge has had a powerful effect on the way I view my fellow man. I now look not at people's faces, but at their lives. It is my firm conviction that if men and women of all nations can learn to understand each other on this level, the world can be changed for the better.
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