This was a wonderful broadcast, and an excellent counterpoint to the kind of divisive prose I am used to reading on many other news outlets.
As for the experience story prompted at the end of the program...
About five years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the International Summer School in Oslo, Norway (ISS). The school, known for its internationally diverse student body, was the kind of place that offered many unique opportunities to a young man from the heartland. Any given meal or social event could provide conversation with Nepalese, Ethiopian, Albanian or Brazilian students. Often times, I was struck by how unabashedly concerned and critical they were with American diplomacy at that time (I attended the school in the summer of 2007).
One of the richest experiences I had occurred in the campus laundry mat. I had begun the washer and sat down to study some of my Norwegian language coursework. A few minutes into the wash cycle, a young women of middle eastern descent entered the laundry room and began washing her clothes. I do not remember what generated our conversation, but I quickly learned that she was an Iraqi. I was quietly shocked when she was quick to ask what faith I identified with. I said I was Lutheran, and when she asked what that was, I explained its position as a protestant Christan tradition. Her next question was even more brash. Was I a Republican? I answered that I did not consider myself a Republican, and that I identified with the Democratic party on most occasions. She replied, "I thought all American Christians were Republican." Sensing her good humored manner and ease of conversation, I asked if she was in support of jihad. When she replied, "No!" I mentioned that many Christians in the United States did not support the war in Iraq, that a great split over the issue had occurred, even within the conversation within church communities.
We had a wonderful discussion about our experiences in the summer program and lighter words about present life, but the interaction with the Iraqi women in the ISS laundry room has always struck me as a great insight into the world of misinformation that seeks to confuse the great amount of rational people who operate in a moderate, but still impassioned position, regardless of their geographic location, political position, etc.
One reflection that Kwame Anthony Appiah's words have inspired is the distinction between the kind of conversation that falls easily in a place of higher education, versus the kind of conversation that is riskless in a more vernacular kind of interaction. The exchange that I shared with a women from Iraqi (at a time when my country was maintaining a highly unpopular military presence in hers) was a sum result of our participation in a school known for international studies. The ISS is also known as "The Little U.N." Both of us were primed for this kind of intense discussion, having practiced and normalized it in coursework and the campus' social setting that summer.
I think one of the criticisms that can actually be leveled with the elusive "liberal elite" is that sometimes educated individuals do not identify the tone of conversation that would be more effective in creating conversation. The kind of conversation that occurs in and around the halls of great institutions is privileged conversation. Much of the world does not have the time or learned capacity to command the language and knowledge of matriculated individuals. There should be no shame in higher education, and I don't think this privilege should be subjected to the kind of anti-intellectual movements that have recently made some gains in the United States, but professors and student bodies within higher education can always practice a more tactful, more patient kind of conversation path.
Fortunately, I do know many college professors who are avid sports fans, so the door is open for the kind of discussion that Mr. Appiah is good to promote. I, for one, will be making a greater effort to follow sports, so that at the very least I may find it easier to connect with my fellow Wisconsinites.
Thank you for the delightful broadcast. Down with the Steelers! Go Packers! ;)
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