Don’t stop believing – and working to understand others, too

Kevin Shinn on holding strong beliefs – and understanding that those who believe differently may also have a point.  

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Years ago, I had an employee that enjoyed discussing politics while we were working together in the kitchen. He and I were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to ideology. But what made him engaging was his ability to ask questions and not just defend his current position in opposition to my thoughts.

He’s one of the few people I’ve known that understood dialogue. Even better is that I was several years his senior – in other words, old enough to be his dad. He restored my hope in the youth of America.

One morning in one of our typical exchanges, I asked him a question. I said, “How about we each try to sum up the ideology of our oppositional political party in one sentence?”

The main rule of the game was this; nothing negative or reactionary can be used in the description. I wanted to see if we could step into the shoes of the other person and at least walk a few steps if not the entire proverbial mile.

In true fashion, his first reply was, “Let me think about it.”

After lunch service was over and we were resetting the kitchen for the evening team to arrive, he said, “I think I have an answer.”

“Fire away,” I said.

“As best as I can understand and distinguish, the left wants to do everything it can to help people, and the right wants to do everything it can to empower people to help themselves.”

I didn’t know what to say. After it sank in a bit, I told him, “That’s profound. Where did that come from?”

He said, “I assume there are good people on either side, and there’s no way that folks who think differently than me are solely evil. I don’t think these two ideals need to be mutually exclusive. I just happened to see a lot of people in need that aren’t being helped, so that’s where my attention goes. That’s why I lean toward the left.”

That conversation was at least 10 years ago, and it still sticks with me. Here was a twentysomething showing wisdom beyond his years.

I wish more folks could think like this. Holding to a strong belief does not have to imply that anyone who opposes me should be destroyed by any means necessary.

I’d like to think it’s possible to gain a collective value of respect and honor toward our neighbor. And I think it will if more voices like my young cook are able to speak out in the same manner.

A chef, writer, and entrepreneur, Kevin was the owner and executive chef of bread & cup in the Lincoln Haymarket from 2007-17. No matter the endeavor, Kevin finds he comes back to the same main pursuits: setting the table, having important conversations, and seeing ideas become reality. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.

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