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Meeting at the Square


Last month, I found myself standing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. The place dripped with historical significance. The place also seemed haunted in a "this isn't the safest place to express your badass self," kind of way. Yet, people gathered and took photos. People gathered and took time to reflect. And I think part of the mystique is that this is a place where men and women from all over the world gather to listen to their heart and learn from the past.
I have also stood in Red Square in Moscow and I have stood/sat/and lingered in Trafalgar Square in London. I have walked through and participated in the life of Times Square in NYC and I have had a coffee in the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) in Madrid, Spain. Around the world, places were kept for people to come together and simply enjoy the art of relating to one another.
In the Public Square, we're forgetting what it means to listen and to learn to enjoy the journey of figuring out the major ideas of life--together. We've allowed vitriol and vulgarity to pull up a chair in our new square and we're not taking as many photos of the art, architecture, and one another. Instead, we're posting selfies and are increasingly quick to criticize, label, or toss words out in the square for effect or reaction rather than for bridge building or heart matters.
The mystery of Tiananmen Square or Red Square is surely related to the secrets kept and stories untold. The majesty of Trafalgar Square or Times Square is surely related to the relationships built and the stories shared. Both, though, have their place. There's a place where secrets remain important. It's where intimacy is built after all. Splashing secrets all over the web is ill advised and to do so creates a wide net, but diminishes an inner circle of friends. Sharing stories and building relationships that last, though, is also important. Healthy relationships may be our last best hope as a culture.
So, while writers like Wendell Berry and Jack Kerouac have emphasized the importance of travel and of place, where we gather with one another matters. Where you and I create space for people to share their ideas, tell their stories, and point out the art we may miss--matters.
I am happy to meet you in a coffee shop to discuss further, but I think we'd both benefit more if that coffee was in a place where others gathered too. Can we just all find a place, not to agree with one another, but to just meet up in the first place? I think that may be a good start to something rather cool. I think we should probably get together more often.
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About
As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.


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