A polite society.
Yet again last night, I saw another example of it.
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I had run into the medium-large town down the road to pick up some groceries. I had my 7 year-old daughter with me. I was wearing a clean T-shirt, some cargo shorts and tennis shoes, and my assorted pocket plunder.
As I finished putting the groceries into the trunk, I realized that I was being approached by someone. I turned around to meet them, with my right hand casually dropping into my right pocket.
The individual was a man, not of my race or ethnicity. He looked like a working man, of younger middle age, still in his working clothes of a pair of worn khakis, an untucked non-labeled button-front short-sleeved work shirt, and a very worn clip-on ID tag that was smudged beyond recognition. I didn't know him, nor did I have the impression that we had met, but we might have. I meet a lot of people who remember me, whom I forget pretty quickly.
His voice was kind of gravelly as he said, "Excuse me...?" and continued walking toward me. This was in the parking lot of a large strip shopping center that also contained the huge supermarket where I had just finished my shopping. The man came from the end of the shopping center with all the little shops that had already closed for the night. He looked mildly aggravated. He didn't seem to notice my hand in my off-side pocket. My daughter was standing next to the back door of the car, waiting for me to get in and unlock it for her from the inside, but had the trunk of the car between the man and her. She was out of traffic, and reasonably out of harm's way.
"Yes, sir?" I responded. I kept my face open, and my eyes moved from the man's face to his hands to his waist and pockets and back to his face.
"Do you know this area?" he asked. "I thought that there used to be a store that sold cut-rate cigarettes here, somewhere." I now recognized that annoyed look on his face as being the frustration of someone who has made a trip that he is discovering to be a waste of time.
"Yeah, there was, wasn't there?" I said, searching my memory. "Wasn't it in that empty spot over there? Or that one over there? I don't smoke, so I don't pay much attention," I said.
"Naw, it wasn't that one, but maybe the other one. Dang. I don't smoke, either. It's for my brother," he said. "I heard they moved, but were still here somewhere."
"Sorry, man. Maybe the front desk guy at the restaurant there will know?" I suggested.
"Just came from there. Well, I'll have to get 'em at the convenience store. They want a lot of money, you know?" he responded.
"I heard that," I chuckled, and got into my car and opened the door for my daughter to get in. "Good luck." He waved as he walked away.
As I drove away from the parking lot, I noticed a new store, closer to the road than the rest of the strip center, with a new tobacco store in it. I tried to change lanes to get back into the parking lot to go tell the guy where it was, but couldn't safely make the turn, and gave it up for lost in the medium heavy traffic.
My daughter asked me who the guy was. "Just a stranger," I told her. She asked me why I had talked to him (she herself has strict orders never to do just that, with strangers). I explained that he was just someone who was seeking help, and wasn't a threat to me, and that I try to help people when I can do so safely.
She said, "Oh, because you're a police officer."
This was complicated. "No. Not just because I'm a police officer. Grownups should be able to try to help each other, if they can, without worry about other grownups. I wasn't talking to him as a police officer, but just as another adult. We were both citizens. Do you understand that?"
She nodded. "Uh huh. And my daddy's not afraid."
"Well, not of just passers-by, er-- people-- on the street," I reiterated. "You're a little girl, now. I don't let you talk to strangers because you're very [I tickled her, at this point] pretty, and someone might want to take you away. But someday, you will be an adult, and on your own, and you will make your own decisions about who you talk to, and about what. This will be based on your own comfort level with people. That's why we talk about bad guys, and how to deal with them," I said. I realized that I was going on a bit too long for a 7 year-old.
"But that wasn't a bad guy?" my daughter verified.
"No, sweetie. That was just a guy," I responded.
"Smoking is bad for you," she said, changing the subject at c speed.
"You're absolutely right, it is," I agreed. "That's one reason why Daddy never smokes."
"You smoked a cigar with John [Shirley]," she said.
"Well, yeah, you're right, I did. And that, my dear, is the exception that proves the rule," I admitted.
"What's that?" she demanded.
"Another time, kiddo. But Daddy doesn't smoke," I said.
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If it hadn't been for my seven-year-old using the Socratic method, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. I am more willing to engage in conversation with strangers, and at least attempt to help them, because I am armed, and feel few concerns about my safety. This happens all the time. It's a genuine example of cultures intermingling in a generally pleasant manner, because the participants weren't worried about each other.
Want to engage in peaceful multiculturalism? Speak kindly to a person of another race, culture, or ethnicity, and try to help a brother out. You can't do that if you're afraid of the world.