I wrote recently that “cultural knowledge is about people,” and today I want to share a story of a man I met last night.

I hopped into an Uber in Narberth, heading from my office at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network to 30th Street Station. Initially ignoring my driver, he struck up a conversation with me about the little borough of Narberth that developed into a 20 minute dialogue.

We talked about South Philadelphia, where he lives, and I mentioned my familiarity with it. I asked where he was from, and he paused before half laughing in the self-deprecating way you do whenever explaining something delicate in a second language.

“I’m from Nepal, man. I was a refugee there. Know where Nepal is?”

I did; we talked about the region, about the turmoil that brought him here about five years ago. We talked about America, about how we became a citizen a few months ago. About the idea of barring Syrian refugees. About sustainable agriculture for growing populations. We talked about technology. I mentioned Benedict Evans’s insight that many will go from no electricity straight to iPhones.

He’s in his 20s or 30s. He laughs again.

“Man, that’s me. My first electronics was an iPhone 4S. I had nothing.”

Also: “America’s the nation that can set a standard, like an example. Not the only one. But the most important.”

We talked about the need for relationships between neighbors as a key to citizenship. How corrosive technology can be to those forming. How corrosive politics can be to those forming.

How can we expect newer Americans to learn the ways of citizenship unless older ones pass things along? 

I’m glad he prompted me to look up from my iPhone.

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