In these turbulent times, let's talk to each other
Commentary: Hearing people say, “Oh, I just can’t talk with THEM anymore,” about folks with different views of our bizarre world, set me thinking about why I talk (and even listen) to most everyone; and I’m grateful that my life’s been a course in openness.
Chance and curiosity have led me into varied worlds. My parents, seeing I was a juvenile delinquent headed for no good, sent me to a top prep school where I was surrounded by wealthy kids from extremely prominent families. After getting expelled, I attended a rough and ethnically-divided school in Ossining, home of Sing Sing Prison, and was thought odd because I got on with everyone. Later, I was a civil rights worker and a local anti-war leader, ran a youth center in Harlem, drove a city taxicab, then ventured to New Mexico, into a whole new culture. Later I attended a fancy law school and practiced law with a top San Francisco firm so stodgy that people were surprised they’d hire such an unconventional fellow. I wandered off to Asia and lived there for 3 ½ years. I also wandered through Peru and Mexico and worked on films with Kuwaiti friends in Kuwait.
I’m grateful my parents showed me early to look at the facts and consider differing views. I’m also grateful for who they were.
My father was a Brooklyn Jew. After Brooklyn College he studied history at Duke, debating life with southern boys, then joined the Marine Air Corps, and flew bombers in the Pacific with fellows who’d never expected they’d be pals with a Jewish atheist from New York.
My mother was a WASP from far northern Maine, where her staunchly Republican father was a dig deal. Family roots in the US went back to 1642. DAR-eligible. But she went to Wellesley, and later lived with the most prominent Chinese family in the US., as governess to the three daughters of T.V. Soong, brother-in-law of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, China’s leader during World War II.
My parents’ marriage in 1945 shocked their families. (The 1947 film Gentlemen's Agreement vividly illustrates how Jews were regarded at the time.) Her parents liked him; he played bridge, was funny, and had a fine war record; but when told of marriage plans, they stayed up all night talking before giving the couple their blessings.
Like the protagonist of Gentlemen’s Agreement, my father was a New York journalist, facing just such prejudices. But I had no sense of that. When my mother started a Cub Scout den, it included WASP's, Jews, and Blacks. I took this for granted, learning only decades later that other cub scout leaders in the area thoroughly disapproved.
Life taught me not only to tolerate differences but to seek, enjoy, and learn from them.
Having lived in so many worlds, often trying to adjust to unfamiliar norms, how could I reject folks who look, speak, or think differently, or worship varied gods? Who am I to imagine I have any inherent superiority to anyone else? Having held minority views, how would I reject a minority view out-of-hand? I’ve also made enough mistakes to recognize I don’t always have the right answer.
So I talk with everyone, and my life is richer for it. A few won’t talk to me, which sometimes saddens me. I’m glad our world has grown more inclusive and accepting, despite our recent regression toward tribalism and intolerance.