Thursday, November 07, 2013

The "light" lunch

It is a beautiful day in Doha so I decided to jump on the campus shuttle to ride across campus to check out office availability in one of our academic buildings – looking for offices for future graduate faculty in our Hamad bin Khalifa University programs. Coupling the office reconnaissance with a stop for lunch at the dining room in our new residence halls resulted in a chance encounter I’ll not soon forget. After picking up my salad and a couple of slices of pizza, I saw a former student and a couple of friends and invited myself to join them for a “light” lunch.

Four people – a woman of Palestinian/Egyptian background, a male from Bangladesh, a male from Afghanistan, and me – the aging American educator. There was an awkward moment of not knowing if they should continue their conversation and then one took the risk – “We were just talking about why some people behave in ways that are completely opposite to who they are. Why do you think this happens?” My first reaction was, “Is this what you usually talk about over a light lunch?” The reply – “Yes, lots of times.” We proceeded through a wonderful conversation of emotional intelligence, why bad leaders get away with their antics, public relations, whether social media is real or if it is fake, and finally a comparison among Fox News, CNN, and Al-Jazeera “news.” The comparison concluded that the first two are ever more frequently veering toward “entertainment” rather than news, with even the likes of Anderson Cooper now offering roundtables where the participants talk on top of each other, interrupt, and treat one another with such disrespect that it shakes your faith in humanity. Al-Jazeera appears to be doing quite a bit better for the moment in actually covering the news rather than recreating pundit-dominated talk shows.

The conversation ended in exploring humility and authenticity as traits to cultivate in ourselves and to discern when determining if those we encounter can be trusted. These are 20-something individuals of three different nationalities, drawn together through their work and in the depth of their character. And, they are young people who, while extraordinary in many ways, are not that different from many young people who are graduating from our universities in Qatar. The stirrings of conflict among many Middle Eastern and Asian countries are disturbing; give me a “light” lunch any day to renew my faith in achieving the impossible!

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