The Doom of Division; The Bloom of Union

Greetings, after traveling and false starts with guest blog posts, and the whirligig of time.

I just came back from a whirl of gigs in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana.  So many people gave me so much; I am a much richer person – rich with stories, and the connections they make.

We are all rich with our stories. Every person and culture carries a collection of stories—a unique perspective. Storytelling connects humans and teaches us about our humanness. Sharing my Berkeley and Susan stories and learning Louisiana stories from hundreds of people helped us all make new stories, as we grow our story.

This growing – blossoming – with sharing is so evident, and, yet, our society has so many messages of individualism with its fear, greed, competition and illusions of what is “success,” we easily forget.  I met linguists, playwrights, educators, speech pathologists, psychologists, English professors, parents, students, construction workers, ecologists, a physicist and a kyaker.  They all had great stories, but often told them to each other, in the same field, the same department or to people who looked like them.  We know growing hundreds of acres of the same plant is not as healthy as different crops together.  How can we encourage people to cross the hall or walk to another building or eat in a different part of town, so we can share our stories, our knowledge, our skills, ourselves with others, and grow?

Recently, I read many research articles from cognitive scientists and linguists, about the physicality of spoken language.  Within a week, a kindergarten teacher was telling me about how using movement in her class helped many students learn better.  She heard this from another teacher who heard it from another teacher who had taken a workshop where it had been mentioned as a way to help restless kids who couldn’t sit still.  If the cognitive scientists walked down the hill and gave a short lecture to teachers at a workshop, their research stories could show how movement helps all learners, even the ones who sit still, because of the way our brain is wired.

Two days ago, I met a cognitive scientist who runs a research lab where a physical language, American Sign Language, is used to study how it affects the brain and learning.  His subject is in a closet never opened by the cognitive scientists studying spoken language.  I could describe many other examples, but you all probably have many in your heads, already.  We need bridge builders, and many bridges.

Bridge building takes bravery.  People get comfortable on their islands or with their familiar closets.  They, sometimes, see bridge builders as invaders. Louisiana stories were not all good.  The unspoken one as a result of history, between people of light skin and those with darker skin, unnerved me more than once.  I attempted many times to bridge a wide gap, and received strong messages to stay away.  I noticed how a light skinned man went through a crowd of darker persons to reach me of lighter skin, to ask me a question about a bus.  Most likely, those he past had the answer as they lived in the area.  By approaching someone he perceived as more like him who was from out of town, he lost.  Had he built a bridge to share with an “other,” he would have been rich with the information he sought.

Ironically, my trip was for bridge building. I was in Louisiana to share a new, short documentary, by Zack Godshall, of A Man Without Words.  People loved the film.  I only received positive comments.  Ildefonso, the man, once without any word or sign, born profoundly deaf, and of dark skin, would not have been visited or approached by many who saw the film. However, they loved him and many were moved to tears.  Thank you, Zack, you brave bridge builder.  Your film unites a chasm, deep and broad, which few have crossed. Last week, you united hundreds of viewers in Louisiana to a once languageless Mayan, and I heard from many of them that they felt more human.

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