Sunday, August 24, 2008

Flight from Independence

On a return flight from the Kansas City International Airport, I once found myself having a very peculiar conversation. The man I sat next to appeared to be about my age and well mannered. Little did I know when I boarded the plane that our families shared a colorful story on the frontier of the United States.

We started with the usual airplane small talk. I was going home and he was leaving it. We were both traveling on business. I mentioned that I was an architect and had been doing work in Independence, Missouri. He was in law enforcement. From the way things went, I would have predicted a rather short conversation. Things changed when I mentioned that three of my relatives were also in law enforcement. With a common thread, we spent the next hour and a half sharing experiences.

In the course of our conversation, my new acquaintance told me that his family had lived in Caldwell County, Missouri, for the last five generations. That caught my attention. I, too, had family who lived there several generations back.

We discovered in a few short minutes that our ancestors had very opposing views, and they were not afraid to show it. Animosity between them and others in the area escalated to a conflict known as the battle of Crooked River. My third-great-grandfather was one of the leaders in that unfortunate battle. Fortunately, neither of our families were wounded.

I thought it unique that the two of us were sitting together, realizing that our grandparents had tried to kill each other, and we were okay with that. There were no grudges or awkward feelings, just a mutual understanding. I think we both acknowledged that there are better ways of solving disputes.

The Savior once instructed his disciples, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” I believe this direction goes beyond just removing barriers. It means making an effort to love and appreciate others, not just tolerate them. I find the more I know about someone, the easier it is to like them, and forgive them.

Knowing someone and knowing about them are two different things. I can learn about someone from a second hand source, but my impressions are often incorrect or incomplete. Knowing someone, however, requires direct interaction and exchange. It usually involves a little more time and effort. I feel it brings me closer to being “one” as the Savior described.

I’ve since gained a greater appreciation for looking at things from someone else’s perspective, especially if they are at odds with me. The ability to do so, and at least appreciate their view for what it is, is essential in breaking down walls that divide us. Each story has two sides, and often more. This man’s family obviously had a very different point of view from mine, but I couldn’t say that they were wrong. Our conversation certainly didn’t change my beliefs, but it did change my understanding. I had a more complete picture to reference.

Following our conversation, the man and I said goodbye and we have not seen each other again. The memory, though, is clear. I am especially glad that we found a common thread for a discussion. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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