We all have them.
Those moments that instill a sense of optimism in us. That things really are not as bad as we often think they are.
I had one yesterday. Mine was a simple conversation. But a conversation that reminded me of the value of frank and civil exchanges between people with different perspectives.
A couple of years ago I met with a woman who has had cultural connections with Mexico and Central America for more than three decades, and currently lives on a lake in the Mexican highlands. She contacted me last week to let me know she was going to be in town and asked if I wanted to get together for lunch.
I did. I recall our last conversation as being rewarding. But finding a mutually-agreeable lunch date proved to be more difficult than usual. I spent most of this last week having the suspension in my car repaired -- an adventure I will discuss later. But we managed to finally find a time yesterday afternoon.
In Blood Will Out, Walker Kirn discloses one of the dark secrets of all writers: "A writer turns his life into material, and if you’re in his life, he uses yours, too." For that reason, let me call my lunch companion Sarah. It is not even close to her name.
Sarah and I share a few important characteristics. We are retired lawyers from the Pacific Northwest who have chosen to live the rest of our years in Mexico.
And that was our starting point -- Mexico. As immigrants, our perspectives of life here is a bit different than other foreigner's. I suppose that perspective would be even more different if we both elected to move one step further into Mexican citizenship.
That exchange was interesting because I learned some new things about Mexico from her. But most of the time we were simply reinforcing our own viewpoints, especially our mutual (and continuing) battle of divesting ourselves of colonial attitudes.
Like most conversations, the opening exchanges needed to weave a mat of mutuality and confidence before venturing into the minefield of more controversial topics.
I have friends and acquaintances here where some minefields need not be approached. I was at a gathering last week and made a rather mild jest at the expense of one of my political opinions. A woman I have known for years snapped at me: "I don't need to hear your boorish thoughts." And then there are the people who I do not see very often anymore because they feel very uncomfortable with opinions other than their own.
It was different with Sarah. Our political views are not polar opposites. However, if I drew a Venn diagram of our political positions, the area of mutuality would most likely qualify as another San Marino or Monaco.
We did plop our views on the table. But, rather than indulging in the political prejudices of hysteria, we took the time to analyze why we disagreed with one another -- and what the source of that disagreement was.
I thought I had an explanation for why we were able to do what my other acquaintances and I cannot do. The obvious answer was that we were trained as lawyers and we fully-understood that any good advocate must be capable of arguing the other side of a case as easily as they advocate their own case.
And I think there is some value in that argument. But it is far too facile. I am aware of an acquaintance here who is law-trained and could no more discuss politics rationally with me than fly to the moon in bedclothes.
The reason Sarah and I could share our ideas without rancor is that we realized the political position Venn diagram did not define our discussion. Early on, we knew that even though political positions had the power to divide us, our political interests (what we would like the world to look like) were almost synonymous. It is an old trick of mediation: move the parties away from their divisive positions to the interests they share.
That is what made me so optimistic about what was a charming conversation. If it was solely the art of thinking like a lawyer that Sarah and I share, that would create an exclusive paradigm. If people would be willing to discuss interests in politics, and set aside their positions, I honestly believe we could once again start talking civilly with one another.
Or maybe that is a pipedream. At least, for yesterday and today, I think it is worth a shot. And I am going to try it.
Even if I have to share my boorish thoughts with others.