One of the best things about Senegal is that life is actually lived, by actual people, in an actual place, doing actual things, and actually talking to each other. Very few people spend much time by themselves on a computer doing virtual things in a virtual place with virtual people. I feel like some kind of freak when I emerge from my house after spending 4 hours on my computer….oh…who am I kidding? After spending 5, 6, 7 hours on my computer. I usually find some folks sitting outside with whom I can chat for a bit. Or I can walk down to the Art Tree and find someone hanging around in the hammock or having some coffee. I am welcomed, a space is made for me, and I can enter the conversation easily. Or not. I can also just sit, and that’s good, too. Either way, I get a needed dose of people therapy, which brings me back to the land of the living.
There’s a saying in Wolof, ‘Nit mooy garub u nit’--people are the medicine of people. It seems like a pretty straightforward truth when you first hear it, or at least it did to me. It even seems simplistic. Over the years, though, that little self-evident truth has bubbled to the top of my consciousness many times, in many different circumstances. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently—this time in relation to civil discourse, or, rather, uncivil discourse, that I see come across my screen.
I typically try to avoid broad generalizations. But here is one: it is bad for both the individual and the society for people to spend too much time alone. Here’s another: it is bad not to know the names of your neighbors. And another: it is bad to say things like ‘people are stupid.’ We have become so unpleasantly uncivil in America--so incredibly intolerant, and I think it might be, perhaps, the thing that contributes most to our unraveling as a nation.
Maybe people say the things they say, and treat each other in the way that they do, because we are isolated and really have no daily functional need for each other. We have worked ourselves into this situation, I believe, as a result of our constant quest for convenience and ease, and our relinquishing of control over things that were once the responsibility of the community. The most obvious example of that (at least to me) is the food system, which is now the province of the government and corporations.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my alone time as much as the next misanthropic American. But, it’s nice to be in a place that forces me out of my misanthropy from time to time, and it’s nice to be forced out of my head and off my screen, and into the place where I am.