Lessons on politics and human kindness at the diner

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Stories are everywhere.  From our limited perspective, many remain incomplete to us.  We observe an isolated interaction between parent and child at the grocery store.  We see a couple holding hands on the street.  We hear a disagreement between a sales person and a customer.  We catch a glimpse of someone crying as they drive their car along a busy highway.  We take in someone’s smile, wondering what inspired it.  Little pieces of life are all around us.  We float through them, often unaware there is anything to learn.  Sometimes we notice.  Sometimes we are oblivious.  Sometimes we choose to look the other way.  Sometimes we are drawn in.

I stopped at a local diner for lunch with the kids after a recent appointment.  The hostess led us down the aisle of back to back booths and we took a seat between two other sets of diners.  As I helped the kids finalize their orders, I was immediately drawn to the conversation behind me.  Two men, maybe in their early fifties, were breaking that old, “Never discuss religion or politics” rule.  Politics was on the agenda.  I heard talk of Obamacare and death panels.  The religious right was analyzed.  The names of conservative and liberal media personalities were interjected.  CNN and Fox News were discussed in depth.  The conversation was spirited but polite.  Both men made their points concisely and respectfully even though they seemed to hold completely opposite political beliefs.

From the tone of the conversation, I could not determine the nature of the meeting.  I wondered if the men were involved in community politics or if they might be business colleagues or maybe acquaintances or friends.  I was intrigued by their uncharacteristically civil discussion of such divisive issues.  I wanted to know more of their story.

My curiosity was satisfied by their farewell.   Both men stood up.  They clasped right hands while they embraced each other with their left hands.  One told the other to tell his wife hello.  The other asked if his friend was heading out on the boat that weekend.  “It’s great to see you,” said one man.  “You too,” said the other, “Have a great weekend.” 

As I cut food into tiny pieces and tried to prevent drinks from spilling, I thought about the exchange I overheard.  I thought about how different the men’s beliefs seemed to be and how effectively they were able to share them with each other.  I thought about how there was no trace of condescension when either man responded with a counter point.  I thought about how each held strong to his beliefs, but also listened carefully to the other.  I thought about their affectionate goodby and their obvious interest in each other’s lives.  I thought about what a good example these men were for the rest of us.

We are all so different.  Too often we make snap judgements about the people around us.  We put them in categories that make us feel more solid in our own beliefs.  He is a religious nut.  She is a liberal socialist.  He thinks Obamacare is a catastrophe.  She doesn’t care about people struggling to pay for health care.  The dad yelling in the store is a bad one.  That couple holding hands probably has it so easy.  The guy arguing with the sales person is a total jerk.  That woman crying in her car should suck it up, things could be worse.  Why is that guy so full of smiles when everything in my life sucks?

There are so many stories.  We are only privy to a few lines of each one.  This encounter in the diner reminded me that the world’s problems will not be solved by stepping left or right.  A step forward is required for progress and that step can be taken with compassion and respect for our fellow human beings.  No matter how different our beliefs, no matter which media outlets you subscribe to, no matter where you stand on health care, whether you’ve cried in your car or lost it at the grocery store, I don’t know your whole story.  But if my story crosses yours someday, I will listen to it respectfully and respond to it with the kindness.

Because always, it’s great to see you, friend and I really do hope you have a great weekend. 

 

 

 

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