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Hard conversations let us listen and connect

By: Rachell STovall
December 21, 2017 Updated: December 21, 2017 at 4:05 am
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Can I tell you a story?

Once upon a time..Hmm, that won't work. This is no fairytale.

Back in mid-September I was driving in downtown Colorado Springs. I looked across the street and then I saw quite the sight. I stopped my car and stared. In fact, some angry driver behind me honked his horn as a signal for me to move. So I found a parking space and walked back a full block to stand in awe (or was it horror?) of this sight.

It was a Confederate flag.

The flag was on a pole. The pole was attached to a truck. In fact, the truck - a Ford 4x4 - had two poles. On one pole flew Old Glory. On the other pole flew the Confederate stars.

Being my wild self, I broke out my phone and took pictures. I reached for a good angle that included both flags. All of a sudden the door opened and a man climbed out of the vehicle.

First thing I noticed about the man was that he was armed. You know - strapped! The gun was visible on a shoulder holster.

I gathered my courage and asked the question sizzling in my brain. While trying to appear nonchalant regarding the gun, I asked "How did you attach those flags to those poles?"

He looked surprised. So he asked me, "You're not upset about the flag?". What I wanted to say was, "Bro - you have a gun! I ain't upset about jack! I just want to walk back to my car." Instead I heard words - apparently coming from my mouth - that said "Naw, I'm curious not upset."

The man visibly relaxed. His answer was, "Really because ever since I moved to Colorado people are mad about my truck. It's white people though."

I nodded. I can get how a Confederate flag might upset people of any race. Certainly, many people find the symbol to be offensive. I know that this sounds strange but we had a long and pleasant conversation about the flag and the truck. I tried to listen without being emotionally threatened.

It was hard.

I am not the best listener. When I judge, it is without mercy. But somehow I (we?) just .. connected. Perplexed about how to convey this story, I posted a picture of the truck on social media.

My opinion about the interaction depends on the day. Sometimes I am glad that I connected with a human being who thinks differently. I feel I gained something intangible. Other days I can't believe that someone is flying that flag in 2017. Occasionally, I'm surprised at having a pleasant conversation with a person who most would call a racist.

I think that I learned that these conversations about race, culture, and class won't kill us.

These are hard conversations. Some relationships will not survive the talking. Emotions get raw. We take things far more personal than they are. We demand that people agree. That never works.

But sometimes we can agree to disagree and stay connected. Remembering that day, I find that I am more patient when faced with someone stereotyping or culturally incompetent. After my conversation with the "good ole boy" (his description) I am less prone to think us vs. them. In matters of race, it ain't all black and white.

So as I look at the Roy Moore supporters , I still see people. Don't get me wrong, they look like a hot mess. Those crazy ideas! I suspect that neither party can truly integrate these folks. But I hope that the mainstream of American thinking is not reflected in their political choices.

Due to polarization, both parties have yet to develop messaging that deeply resonates with the mainstream of the American people. I hope that someone leaves the polling, the politicking and learns how to engage everyday people. Can we possibly leave the cronyism, or the greed and have representatives actually serve their constituents?

I just want public servants to listen and connect. To us.

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Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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