I’m not usually a big talker on planes… my usual modus operandi on planes is headphones in, hood up, nose buried in a book. But if someone engages me, I’ll make nice and pretend that small talk is not my least favorite thing in the world, and sometimes that will pay off. On my return trip from my visit to the Communications department at UPenn where I might be pursuing a PhD next year, I had an airplane conversation that I’ll remember for a long time.
It started because I was wearing a Milwaukee Brewers hat. As I sat down next to an old couple in my row, the husband (Jim), a St. Louis Cardinals fan, asked me if I was a Brewers fan, to which I responded “yes”, and we got to talking about baseball. He told me some fascinating stories about growing up in St. Louis and being a batboy for the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles), a team that included Satchel Paige and Eddie Gaedel, the shortest player to ever have a plate appearance in professional baseball. But when I told him why I had been visiting Philadelphia, the conversation got really interesting.
Jim was a 70+ year-old Korean War veteran from Irvine, California, and had the political leanings one might expect from that demographic. He was a Republican, and I had to bite my tongue a bit when he said that he really didn’t like a lot of the policies that Obama had put in place. But as much as I may have disagreed with him on policy matters, it quickly became obvious that we agreed upon a lot when it came to problems of the current political climate. Though we disagreed on the causes, we both wanted to see more working together from our elected officials, and we were both tired of the divisiveness of the rhetoric coming from elected officials, the claims that the other party is “Anti-American” (again, I didn’t get into assigning blame for this, because while I think the Republicans are more guilty of this, I didn’t want the rest of the flight to be awkward). We agreed on the respect due to veterans, though we disagreed on whether America should be in Iraq. And most importantly, in my eyes, we agreed that the greatest hope for America lies with a responsibly informed citizenry holding their elected officials accountable for enacting the policies they were elected to enact.
I think the most valuable part of this flight was a reminder that there are people out there who, while they hold policy views that are wildly different than mine, agree with many of my beliefs about the things that are necessary to improve the governance of our country. And that’s a great starting point. Given more time, I would love to talk to Jim about policy, because I think that there are plenty of things we could learn from each other based on a mutual respect for each other’s ideas.