Distance is deceptive; travel thousands of miles and wind up in the same dreary strip malls with the same chain stores you’ll find at home. Or travel just a few miles from home and wind up in strange circumstances. Also, let’s abandon the idea that far travel must involve distance. Distance, in the way I am describing it, can be measured in terms of language and culture.
Let’s take an example. A good number of years ago, One of the positions I held had me directing craft demonstration areas at a major traditional music and craft festival. Months of research were conducted yearly to find traditional craft people from many cultures and bring them together to demonstrate their craft skills and meet and interact with each other and the public. We were housed, ate, and partied together during the festival. There was ample opportunity for people to interact.
One year, we had two blacksmiths, one from New England and the other from Cambodia. My assistant Laura decided that pairing them would be a dynamic match. She was right. Despite significant language differences, the two smiths bonded over techniques and traditions. It was hard to separate them at the end of each show day, as they’d wander off with an interpreter discussing projects and processes. At the hotel, they’d be among the last to say goodnight, and during the long days of the festival, their shared forge was the central attraction for many, and there’d be a hubbub of activity around them.
They only lived about a hundred miles from each other, but the cultural and linguistic distance they traveled was huge. Their common craft built the bridges that made the distances small.