“It’s a good thing y’all are Yankees,” he told us, “’cause you’re way more organized than we are.”

For the record, there were five of us at the meeting. One was a New Jersey native, one was a Midwesterner (that’s me, and you will never find my picture in the dictionary next to the word “organized”), and three were born-and-raised-in-the-South Georgians.

Everyone laughed, and no one took offense at the comment. And that felt good.

Not only do discussions and debates these days seem to be getting more and more aggressive and argumentative in general, but it seems that people’s words are constantly getting put under a microscope. Examined and inspected for underlying messages or religious and political leanings. Analyzed and demonized for being too politically correct – or not correct enough. Things people say often get twisted, turned around, and taken totally out of context.

So it was refreshing that night to be with a group of people who were sharing thoughtful and personal reflections about the faith and values that were common to us all, and yet were comfortable enough to joke with each other about our differences.

I had a similar feeling earlier that day, although there were no jokes involved. I was on a treadmill at the health club, and was watching the news on the overhead TV. They were covering the court proceedings for the Olympics gymnastics doctor who was being sentenced to prison for sexual abuse.

“I don’t know how anybody could do something like that,” said the person who had just gotten on the treadmill next to mine. It was someone I see regularly at the health club. We usually nod to each other in passing, and we’ve talked once or twice before while on the treadmill.

This person is black, and a former athlete, which I mention only because it explains part of the conversation we had, which grew out of the news about the Olympic doctor. That led to a discussion about male and female doctors, female reporters in football locker rooms, the current sexual abuse scandals, and cultural changes that are happening because of them. We even touched on the topic of different nutrition and exercise habits among blacks and whites. Eventually, my workout was over and his ramped up to a speed that made it difficult to talk.

Both of these experiences reminded me of how refreshing and reassuring it is to talk with people who may be different from us in any number of ways, but with whom we can have open and honest discussions without worrying about our words being taken out of context or misconstrued. People we can joke around with, without worrying about inadvertently offending each other. People whose thoughts and opinions we can respect and learn from, without necessarily agreeing with them.

I’m glad there are still plenty of people like that in the world, and I hope I continue crossing paths with them regularly. In the South. In the Midwest. At the health club. And anywhere I happen to be in my day-to-day life.

January 26, 2018
©Betty Liedtke, 2018

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