As a curious introvert, I enjoy meeting people and I aim to do it with an open mind. This week, I canvassed for the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual poppy campaign, which landed me outside a local Beer Store. The perfect opportunity to meet those I wouldn’t often encounter.
I met some memorable characters—let me tell you about them and the impact they made on me.
The first fellow was an elderly veteran—he told me so, and tears sprouted from his eyes when he told me how thankful he was that the Legion had been there to support him. He was what my mother would have called dashing—crisp, tidy, articulate, and full of good humor. Pressed trousers, a sign of a generation older than mine.
While he was chatting, another gentleman walked up to me. I will describe him as maybe two decades younger than me, perhaps a bit unkempt, wearing a flannel jacket with a faded band t-shirt under it (a great band, incidentally, says this mod rock-n-roll punk).
He began telling me how grateful he was, grateful for veterans and those who served and continue to do so. Said he was happy to support the Legion, and then he began sharing some (what I thought were) unrelated stories about faraway friends. I didn’t really understand where his story was going, but I listened intently.
I attempted to bridge a literal—and figurative—gap between the two guys, who really weren’t that far apart in their values but were approaching them from opposite perspectives. They weren’t giving space to the other, and I don’t think they realized how similar their messages were.
“So, what you’re both saying is, if I understand, it’s about respect,” I offered.
The elder man looked at me and said, “I’ll tell you what, we’re a society divided…what does respect even mean these days?”
Without waiting for an answer, he entered the store, then exited with his purchase. Meanwhile, the other fellow had gone in to place his order.
“Were you getting an education?” the older man winked at me as he walked towards his car; he assumed the sloppy rock-n-roll dude had been off the rails with some tall tales. I wanted to tell this veteran that that younger gentleman had actually sung his praises and was grateful for his service.
Instead, I smiled, “Yes. Every day is an education if you listen closely enough.”
The younger gentleman alit from the store. What he said next was a surprise—clearly, he’d given the question of respect some though while he was shopping.
“Respect, it comes from the heart,” he explained. “It’s a recognition, a thank you. Yeah. It’s recognition and gratitude. I learned that. From my friend, the one I was telling you about. It stuck with me.”
Yes, I thought. Respecting the ‘other’, the decent individual who may appear to be unlike you. Those whose values—and value—present themselves differently than you might expect.
Neither fellow had acknowledged the two were expressing the same sentiment, albeit from their own perspectives. Instead, they devalued each other, seeing ‘the other’ as adversarial. These two ‘I’s, sharing their feelings, not realizing that their ‘I’s were more of a ‘we’ than a ‘they’.
Which brings me to another conversation that day (although it was much more of a monologue). We were wrapping up our shift when another fellow came by. He became animated when he noticed we were canvassing for the Legion.
“They don’t want you to know what’s really going on…”
“They’re not going to tell you about that (insert expletive here) and his band of (anti-Semitic naming here), but it’s huge…”
“Oh, and Trudeau should be arrested for treason, because they’re covering up…”
Perhaps I would have cared to listen if he’d even once started with ‘I’, as in “I wonder if” or “I believe”.
When we speak on behalf of or repeat the rhetoric of “they” without personal reflection and perspective, it’s simple to demonize ‘the other’. It removes ‘I’ from the conversation and eliminates room for common ground.
I aim to greet ‘others’ with an open mind and open heart. I listen for clues and cues, and I appreciate learning from those with life experience that are unlike my own.
Those first two I encountered? I’m guessing their life experiences are dissimilar, certainly, if only by generation. Making an effort to listen to one another might have helped them see each other as something other than ‘the other’.
Oh yes, we are. Because to see one another, to achieve any sense of unity, we need to show a little vulnerability. We need to share our own stories. The stories that begin with ‘I’. ‘They’ is neither you nor me. If we choose to frame our stories around ‘they’, then they’re not really our stories at all.
About the Creator
I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.
I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.