Musings in the 21st Century USA

by Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

The other day I was driving to the store on a narrow side street, headed downhill. A car headed up the hill toward me pulled between two other cars to let me pass. I simultaneously had pulled aside to let the other driver pass. We both paused, motioning for the other to proceed; finally, I waved and smiled and went first – I got a smile in return. I noticed a bumper sticker contrary to my own political beliefs as I passed that driver.

I had no countervailing bumper sticker on my car, so my initial views were not evident. But in that shared moment, I was reminded that the “other side” could be capable of simple acts of decency and courtesy, just as I hope I am. Had there been an opportunity, perhaps we could have talked and come to some common understanding. But, on the other hand, it is also possible that a discussion between us could have devolved into accusations and personal attacks.

How do we have those conversations with those with whom we disagree? Must “we” win indisputably to validate such a discussion? Must they? And would we listen and try to understand? If not, accept what each of us feared the most. What terms could either of us accept? If not defeat, at least a compromise.

I continued my trip to the store, acquired my items, and returned home, where my views and opinions remained secure from external influences. I mean, I am right, am I not? But, if I’m right, the other guy can’t be right, can he? Maybe in a sense, we are concerned about the same issues but view those issues through a different lens. It would be nice to have a chance to ask, listen, and offer a respectful counterargument. That seems like a better outcome than an uncomfortable standoff or a head-on crash.

As an emergency manager from 1992-2013, I often worked with people with whom I had philosophical or professional differences, not to mention divergent views in politics. Despite profound differences I knew that nearly all could be relied upon in a crisis, and I believe they knew they could depend on me as well, because we had in common a commitment to our fellow human beings in crisis. I’d like to believe that those moments reflected us at our best: unfortunately, post crisis those conflicts often resurfaced after a brief respite. Perhaps that common commitment helped us avoid a destructive head-on collision at times.

It may not be possible to achieve rapprochement with everyone – and some may not wish to try. But surely on the “other side” of today’s issues there are many who would be willing to listen and understand differing viewpoints. We should try and find each other.

Subscribe to the Blog Feed
HINT: The RSS feed works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari but a free extension is needed if browsing in Google Chrome.

Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.