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I’ve got this friend


The little towns on the Oregon coast are quite unique – one from the other. But one trait they share: a lot of people from many interesting places with amazing and interesting backgrounds live here.

Here are some examples. Last week I went to a local senior educational seminar. The speaker – who lives about 10 miles up the highway – was one of the surgeons who performed the autopsy on the body of John Kennedy at Bethesda in November, 1963. Another fella who lives South of us has been a Middle Eastern expert for NBC News for several years and you’ve often seen him on your TV. Near him, a former Hollywood producer with a few Oscars for “High Noon,” “Longest Day” and some others. As I said, amazing and interesting backgrounds.

I’ve made a friend in these parts I’d like to tell you about. An influential fellow? Yes. Maybe not as famous as some of the others, but, in my long life, he’s one of the finest men I’ve ever known.

Let me tell you a little about him.

He’s four months older so I call him “Pops.” He lives in a house three times larger than my own. He travels a lot! I don’t. He’s dedicated to kids. Any kids. Me, not so much. He’s a “man of means” with a comfortable retirement. I’ve got Social Security. He’s on this-that-and-the-other Boards of Directors. I’m not.

He and his wife entertain a lot. We don’t. He has friends on several continents. We don’t. Politically, he’s very conservative. Me, not so much. He has a strong dislike for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I don’t. He ocean fishes and kayaks alone at the age of 80. I don’t. He spent all of his life in Iowa until moving to the coast several years ago. I’m a native Northwesterner. He has a law degree and has taught law in Europe and the Middle East. I don’t and haven’t. He was a US Navy officer. I was a USAF NCO. He drives a new Audi 8 Quattro. I’ve got my four-year-old pickup.

Just two peas in a pod, right?

By now, you’re probably wondering (1) how two such disparate individuals got together (2) what’s my point and (3) what in the world we talk about when we have long breakfasts or lunches every couple of weeks.

We first got together because our wives belong to PEO and we met at a social function for husbands, then renewed our acquaintanceship at a local church. As we talked, I said I’d like to get together for lunch of a breakfast. He was similarly inclined. So we did.

As we spent more time together, it was increasingly obvious we had little in common. We agreed on nearly no subject and our views on just about everything were not only different but almost in direct conflict. Socially, educationally, economically and politically we were a couple of opposites.

So what do we talk about? In all our time together, he and I have discussed those “social, educational, economic and political differences” head-on. And you know what? We’ve never had an argument. Not one. The reason is, we deeply respect each other. We accept the differences – and there are many – but never challenge them in a personal way. We acknowledge the strength of character of each person and work from a basis of mutual respect.

What we’ve found in getting to know each other better is we accept each for the distinct individuals we are. We’ve realized the importance of what ties us together is greater than what could separate us. We’ve recognized the differences – and many there are – have offered us an opportunity to learn and grow. The relationship has been mutually beneficial. And educational.

And my point? Just this. Our badly divided nation is made up of people just like my friend and me. Very different backgrounds. Very different viewpoints. Almost nothing in common. Strangers to each other and to millions of others. But we also share many, many things. Just like my friend and me.

Suppose we stop talking “AT” each other, began to listen “TO” each other; cast aside those voices working daily to divide us (hate radio, phony religious hacks, the know-nothing rhetoric of ignorant political nutcases, etc.) and struck up some personal conversations with people outside our own comfort zones. Suppose, in doing so, we discovered and dwelt on those areas of commonality like patriotism, raising the kids, paying the bills, pride in our communities and all our hopes for a better future.

I’d like to think the experience of my disparate friend and me could be extrapolated to a nation in political and social trouble. That acknowledging and accepting national differences could take a backseat to personally honoring those things that bind us together. Things too often forgotten when hate takes over the conversation.

I really believe it can. If we’ll stop talking AT and start listening TO. Like my friend and me.

I really think you’d like him, too.

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