There Is a Right Way To Do This to Avoid a Second Civil War
I just went into the diner on my street to get some breakfast. Specifically bacon. My wife is vegetarian so we don’t usually have bacon in the house so I showered, threw on some clothes, grabbed my phone and headed down.
It was a bit later in the morning so the place was pretty empty. A few couples sitting on opposite corners, talking, enjoying some food. I sat near the door as it was a two-top and I was a single. Got some coffee, ordered my grub and sipped from the mug and read some news on the screen.
In the back part of my head, I noticed the two women on the east wall talking increasingly louder. Not my business, I shut them out and continued reading about the Saudis and Trump. But the ladies got louder. It sounded like they were in a fight or at least highly agitated. And then my Spidey-sense kicked in and I realized they were talking about me.
I looked over and the most angry of the two called out across the tables “What the fuck are you looking at?”
Caught a bit off guard, I stumbled. “Do I know you?”
“No, but I know you. You’re Don Hall. You’re a piece of shit!”
Ah. While I wondered why she thought I was a piece of shit (could’ve been this stranger read something I wrote that she didn’t agree with, or was friends or FB acquaintances with an ex or someone in the theater or storytelling communities who decided at some point that my specific brand of unapologetic white maleness was a threat to humanity), I decided to simply ignore her and have my bacon.
That was not in her ad hoc plan for the morning, however. She got up and sat closer to me yelling that I should leave. Yelling at me that I had no right to be in the same public space as her. That I was traumatizing her by being in the same room. She was relentless and I continued to ignore her.
Finally, one of the waiters came over and asked what the problem was. She started in, yelling at him about me. He looked at me, asked if everything was alright. “I’m fine. Never saw her before a day in my life. When you get a second, I’d love a top off to the coffee.”
A few minutes later, the waiter asked both ladies to leave. They went ballistic, one pulling out her phone and the yelling about the patriarchy and a whole bunch of nonsense in response to the situation.
And then my food came and I enjoyed my breakfast.
I have a limited knowledge of negotiation technique but one thing I’ve picked up is that to truly get somewhere, the two opposing parties need to agree on something up front. Then use that agreement as the basis for conversation, debate, and compromise.
This hit home as I sat on a holding bus on a day of extra work for Chicago PD. Ordinarily, I spend the down time during these days writing, checking and responding to events consultation inquiries, and reading. This day, however, I was seated next to a Ditka lookalike who wanted to chat.
He wanted to talk about politics. I was game. It turned out that he was a Trump supporter. He wanted to know how I felt about the Honduran refugee caravan that was approaching the U.S. border. He wanted me first to know that he considered it an invasion.
I was darkly amused. I was slightly appalled. But I had to sit with this guy and so I thought about my one bit of negotiating strategy. What could we agree upon?
“Invasion, huh? I don’t know about that but I think we both can agree that our immigration systems are in a mess, yeah?”
He went on about immigrants coming over illegally and how that’s bad for the country. I listened. I judged in my mind but I did my level best to see if I could find any common ground with the guy.
“You’d agree that we definitely should let those seeking citizenship legally in, right?”
We launched into a conversation that disputed the Dick Cheney 1 percent rule, looked up some statistics on the percentage of immigrants found to be terrorists (almost none), and I played him a bit of Nestor Gomez’s tale of coming into the country as an undocumented child. All while never talking down to him, being a strident asshole or shaming him for his views.
Hell, I even got him to agree that a bilingual country was just better for everyone.
Did I change his mind? I doubt it but I’m guessing I was a lot more successful than that 8 percent calling him an evil racist. And I guarantee it was a better approach than screaming at him while he was trying to simply eat breakfast.