It’s been a busy few weeks here at MPOW, with school starting up again and an influx of worried, excited, nervous, and hopeful first-year students.  It’s fun to watch as they gather and make friends, and it’s equally as fun to see the students who are now upperclassmen strut about as they flaunt their inside knowledge. It’s all fun.

I’ve been asked to be the faculty adviser for both the acapella singing group and the African cultural group, both of which I readily and humbly accepted. While I’m pretty conversant with singing, I’m much less so with African culture. I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about the the different cultures, about how we might be similar and how we are surely different. (One of the students was telling me yesterday about a dish they remembered with great fondness, describing it so wistfully it was obvious it was a cherished meal. Given that it was a fish that contained roe and was cooked – and served – whole, I was not at all convinced. Of course, their reactions when I described lutefisk were equally horrified.)

It occurs to me that these opportunities are what much of society is lacking of late. We are, most of us, so intent on looking at our various devices that we don’t look up and chat up the person next to us. (Well, I do. Just ask DBF.) We are mostly aware of our own culture and heritage, but don’t inquire as to others. Is it a lack of curiosity? A fear of looking foolish? Or offending? In any case, the fact that we don’t seem to talk to each other anymore is making us insular, and suspicious of those unlike us.

It’s as if we’ve traveled back in time, when you were wary of those not from your village. Short of yanking phones out of the hands of passersby, how do we bridge that gap?

Libraries help, of course. They’re gathering spaces and gatherers and disseminators of knowledge. They have programs that allow you to meet your neighbor and get to know them a bit.

With the almost incomprehensible events of the last few days, I can’t help but wonder whether the lack of connection with each other didn’t play a part. We hear all too often that the perpetrators of this kind of carnage were loners, they had few friends, they were quiet neighbors. I don’t know whether connecting with someone like that would help or not, but I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t hurt.

In any case, I’ll be learning about Ghana and Ethiopia and Liberia in the next few weeks. I can’t wait. And maybe I can pass along a bit about German and French and Irish and Norwegian culture, as well. Connection is a good thing.

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