My son lives in Manhattan, just south of Sodom Square. He’s performed Shakespeare, but last week he slipped into his hometown drawl, “Dang, Daddy. I finally told them to stop South-shaming. The whole country voted backward, not just the South. Ain’t like any of these folks can surf or fish. Ain’t like they understand guns; they’re just self-righteous and scairt of ‘em. South-shaming doesn’t solve anything.”
“South-shaming?” I asked.
“Blaming the backward South for everything,” he said. “Just ‘cause you’re from Car’lina and dead wrong about some things, don’t mean you’re a dumbass,” my son concluded.
“We’re all ignorant, just about different things.”
“It’s funny, you defending Dixie. You sound like a new friend of mine, Bernard, from the League of the South,” I said.
“That Old South secessionist group? He from Alabama?”
“Actually, he’s from near Niagra Falls, NY. Probably raised more on Canadian bacon than Carolina hog. Few are as zealous as a convert to a lost cause.”
“I even asked him for a contribution for the unknown slave monument I want to put up on the capitol grounds. If there is a source of shame in the South, it’s basing an entire economy on the institutionalized inequity and inequality of slavery for centuries, then defending the practice by shouting state’s rights and waving the rebel flag of freedom for the last 150 years.”
“So, he’s your first donor?” he asked.
“Not so much,” I said. “But he honorably and honestly said he would consider it. I assured him I don’t mean to tear down every last monument to the Lost Cause—just add a little, you know, color to the capitol.”
“You’re in a league of your own, Dad. You’ll talk to anyone. You’re like Will Rogers.”
“Never met a man I didn’t like,” I chuckled.
It’s a good day when my son compares me to Will Rogers, and I get to meet someone with a different world view. It’s easy to talk with people we agree with. But what fun is that?
I met Bernard at the Port City Java on 17th Street. I found him articulate, intelligent and eminently likable. He dressed well and kept a smart van Dyke. I was a bit more of a raggedy man: A doctor ever in transit to another house call. We chatted over coffee. I was tempted to try a sonic screwdriver, but had my usual grande with hazelnut and chocolate. Bernard had a smoothie. If I wrote that Bernard had coffee, when in fact he had a smoothie, the entire quantum universe of truth might crumble. An event horizon would trap Neil deGrasse Tyson. Silence would fall.
Well, not exactly, but facts matter.
Bernard and I share a lot of common ground. We have a basic agreement about facts. Facts matter, but facts don’t tell stories. Passionate people select some facts and exclude others to make stories. Sometimes the stories we weave with our facts are close to true, as in the case of the Big Bang Theory, evolution, human-caused global warming, or the comedic improv troupe we lovingly call the Democratic Party. Sometimes we just spin an entertaining yarn, as in the myths of the 6,000-year-old Earth, dinosaurs roaming the woods of Western Carolina alongside the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, or this generation’s GOP caring about everyman and bearing any resemblance to the “Party of Lincoln.”
Bernard and I have read Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer says a lot of words—some of which even make sense. I appreciate that the old 19th century German philosopher fervently supported the abolitionist movement in the United States. He described the treatment of “[our] innocent black brothers whom force and injustice have delivered into [the slave-master’s] devilish clutches” as “belonging to the blackest pages of mankind’s criminal record.”
Bernard and I both lament the erosion of critical-thinking skills, shrinking local media and expansion of the powers of the president. We’re both concerned about government over-reach, though we likely disagree on where exactly good government should reach. We’re not too far apart in things like “kith and kin,” and God and country. Of course, I define “kith and kin” as everyone on the planet. I consider close kin my favorite founder Thomas Paine. Tom figured out long ago, “The world is my country, and my religion is to do good.”
That’s more agreement on a first meeting than Israel and the Arab states have had since 1948.
As we approach Turkey Day and cultivate gratitude, I’m thankful for the common ground we all tread on and for a son wise enough to know that shaming the “other” doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.