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March 17, 2009

I met an interesting person on Saturday, somebody that many of you would likely classify as ignorant.  You’d think that when I found out he was a member of the NRA and the Minute Men I would have run the other way, but much to the contrary, I really wanted to find out more about him.  Had I walked away indignantly, I would have been acting ignorant and intolerant myself.

I actually have no problem with gun ownership, so the NRA membership wasn’t really an issue.  I’d rather eat meat from an animal I killed in the wild than from an animal that suffered in confinement all its life to become my food.  Yeah, guns are a problem in the city, but it’s not really the guns that are the problem – it’s the people who use them. 

But a Minute Man.  That gave me pause.  I did, after all, work for a Brazilian immigrant organization for two years and I have some friends who are undocumented immigrants – people who tried to come here legally but couldn’t and who pay taxes using an ITIN number to demonstrate that they’re not trying to cheat the system.  So how could I sit through an evening with a guy who feels he is at war with undocumented immigrants?

How?  Because I wanted to learn.  I wanted to know why he felt that way, what experiences and information led him to join a movement to keep illegal aliens out of the country.  And he was respectful about it; he could see that it made me a little uncomfortable, so he didn’t rant and rave.  Rather, he told me civilly about his beliefs and the reasoning behind them, reasoning which was just as sound as my reasoning for being okay with immigration since both our reasons were based on personal experience, and you really can’t argue with personal experience.  I’ve had very positive experiences with Mexicans and Mexican immigrants (he worked in California for awhile, so the conversation centered on Mexicans in particular), while he has not. 

In the end, I would not classify this person as ignorant, although when it comes down to it, we’re all ignorant in certain ways.  Many of you who are reading this are probably fairly ignorant of how different life is out here in the Plains and the mountain states, of how threatened folks feel by city people who try to toughen gun laws, who buy up land in the countryside to build big homes rather than ranches, who, in many ways, act like they think they know what’s best for everyone.  And this person I spent most of Saturday night with is certainly ignorant in his own ways, too.  And so am I. 

This is an enormous country with vast differences in lifestyles and opinions, and we don’t do ourselves any favors by pretending we’re right and everyone who disagrees is wrong.  In some cases, we’re all right and we’re all wrong depending on the situation, the location, and the motivation.  That’s why I like to engage people who think differently than me.  It helps to chip away at ignorance and expands my understanding of the human race and the human condition.

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