Thursday, December 07, 2006

Walking to New York...From Kennedy

Wednesday's Times ran a great story about British author Will Self who, upon visiting New York, chose to walk into Manhattan from JFK. I loved this story. Particularly these insights...

"What recommended it was that it would take him through parts of the city that most people never notice while driving in a car: an experience that Mr. Self, a student of psycho-geography, believes has imposed a ?windscreen-based virtuality? on travel, cutting us off from experiencing our own topography.

?People don?t know where they are anymore, ? he said, adding: ?In the post-industrial age, this is the only form of real exploration left. Anyone can go and see the Ituri pygmy, but how many people have walked all the way from the airport to the city??

This insight ties in so nicely to my reflections on ground-level philanthropy. We need to see where we are. We need to listen to people. We need to know when we are assuming we know what others are experiencing or even what they are saying.

As Mr. Self notes, when he asked a local resident for directions about how to get to NYC the fellow insisted he needed to get in a car and join in the traffic on the Van Wyck. As Self noted, ?It wasn?t that he didn?t know where we are,? Mr. Self said. ?It?s that he couldn?t conceptually grasp the idea of walking to New York. I love that.?

If those in communities cannot "conceptually grasp the idea" that philanthropists are bringing in, it stands to reason that the well-meaning philanthropists can't conceptually grasp the idea of the local community. It takes time. It takes work. It takes listening.

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