how do talk across our experience?

On the ride home from RDU airport to Southern Pines, my brother pointed to the road leading to friend’s new house, “She lives out here in the country.”

I asked incredulously, “And you live in the city?”

“That’s right. Downtown.” And we all laughed.

Now I knew that town and country were relative concepts, but it is difficult here in Southern Pines to describe the scale and velocity of urbanization in Shenzhen.

What can I say in response to the question, “How urban is it where you live?”

I usually answer, “Very. There are few places in the US (outside NYC and LA) that are as expansively urban as Shenzhen, but even NYC and LA have significantly fewer people than Shenzhen.”

And there’s the rub. It’s difficult to imagine the intricacies of Chinese urbanization here in Southern Pines, where the wind rustles through long pine needles as the tree tips bend toward each other in early summer warmth. I keep asking myself, what would allow the diverse experiences of urbanization in Shenzhen and Southern Pines to become reciprocally meaningful? After all, over the past few years Southern Pines has experienced an estimated 20% growth rate. Life here, too, isn’t what it used to be. Nor is it the straightforward alternative to China that many people – both here and there – believe. But there are commonalities – shared desires for better education, government accountability, and public safety, to name the tip of grassroots unrest – that could grow into dialogue.

So point du jour: If we are to figure out a language of global sustainability, we need to develop empathy for each other’s reality in the absence of compatible experience.

Topics you’d like to see comparatively discussed? And why?