Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Street Corner Challenges

Today in Calistoga, two young men set up a table at the corner near the post office with political propaganda. They were there to speak on behalf of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche. All well and good. But their main signs were two large face shots of President Barack Obama, with a drawn-in Hitler moustache.

The post office is just next door to the Tribune office. All day, people stopped in to vent, speaking in outrage about their reaction to the use of Hitler as an image. We explained that we were aware of the men, that they had been present in Calistoga the previous year and we had run a story on them, and we were choosing not to cover it this year - because that's precisely what they want, more press coverage.

Still, it was making my own blood boil. I hated the fact that they were out there. At lunch, my boss Pat and I decided to hop in the car and drive out to Home Plate cafe for grilled cheese sandwiches (me) and fish and chips (her). The stop sign out of the parking lot put us directly alongside the men at their table. One young man stepped clear of the sign, gestured towards it with his hand, and looked up at me with an inviting expression.

And I calmly flipped him off.

He wagged his finger at me, equally calmly, with a "Tsk, tsk" look, and then we drove away. As soon as we left, I regretted my reaction. What made it even more ironic, even comical, was that on that very morning, on the way in to work, I had been listening to a book on CD by Thich Nhat Hahn called "True Love" about the practice of awakening the heart. He spoke extensively about calming the mind before action, so that one can reach out with love. I don't think he meant to be calm while giving someone the finger!

It gnawed at me for a couple of hours. Finally, I walked over to the corner, and apologized. I said, "Earlier, I flipped you off, and I wanted to say I'm sorry." The young man said, "Oh, I don't remember you. There have been a lot of people who have flipped me off." I then said, "What I have a problem with is..." And he said, "It's the moustache, right?" And I said yes. He then proceeded to go into a nonsensical political diatribe equating Obama (and every other president since Kennedy) to Hitler because they are "budget cutters," saying their policies of "depopulation" are the same as genocide. I listened for a few moments, attempted to explain how Hitler should never be used in any comparision, then realized it was fruitless. I wished him luck with his free speech, and turned to go.

In the end, then, I accomplished little in the way of communication. No minds were changed on either side. But I did, at least, clean up my mess by acknowledging my bad behavior. And that left me feeling much more at peace than I had after the moment in the car.


  1. I was in a work training today, which brought up some memories of work mistakes I have made in the past. I was thinking about how valuable it is to mine the information from that uncomfortable feeling after an action, if I can be open to it. The situations I've been in that have been very supportive--like therapy--have been the ones that have allowed me to take care of my core self enough to be able to be open to the uncomfortable-emotion-information about some action I did. Seems to me that it's even more vulnerable to share a situation like that with others . . . thanks for doing that.

  2. Michelle,

    Maybe no minds were changed -- after all for many of us our political opinions are set in stone. However, by apologizing for your actions, you are planting seeds. Good work !!