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Ellen DeGeneres and George Bush remind me of my barbershop days
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

My first job was shining shoes in the barbershop in Social Circle. Every Saturday morning, there would be a group of men who would fill most of the guest chairs. Some never got a haircut.

This was at the time the Vietnam War was coming to an end. Some were against leaving without defeating the enemy. It was also about the time that President Nixon and some of his associates were defending themselves in the Watergate debacle.

A variety of opinions would fly around the shop. A little good-natured ribbing was the order of the day.

I remember one Saturday a gentleman came into the shop. “I hear that Jimmy Carter may run for president,” he said.

Mr. Aub McClain, the senior barber, appeared to be snoozing in his barber chair. He lifted up his head and replied, “President of what?”

It drew a good laugh, but nobody was offended. It was just a lively difference of opinion.

Recently, former President George W. Bush was photographed sitting next to Ellen DeGeneres at a football game in Dallas. They were sharing a conversation and laughing.

Folks on both sides thought this was horrible.

What could Bush, a conservative Republican, and DeGeneres, a liberal Democrat, have to talk about. What were they doing together?

The wags on social media had a field day. Ellen went on television the next day and said she doesn’t always hang out with people who agree 100 percent with her.

I think it was great.

One of the best at this was President Bill Clinton. I have heard Republicans say that he was “disarmingly charming.” They went in wanting to hate him, but left smiling.

There once was a time when members of Congress on both sides of the aisle would fight like cats and dogs on the floor of the House or Senate. When the day was done, they were likely to go together and have dinner. Not anymore.

We are more divided in this country than at any time I can remember. When is the last time you sat down and talked with someone who is an ultra-conservative, an ultra-liberal, gay, straight, black, white or is just different from you? You don’t have to take their side of things, but you might just learn something from one another.

If you are seen having coffee with a person that someone else considers to be an enemy, it might be fodder for someone on social media. That’s just wrong.

Michael Corleone, the central figure of  “The Godfather,” had a memorable quote. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” he said. 

Everyone who has a different opinion from you is not necessarily your enemy, but all too often we treat them that way.

This country was founded on freedom of religion and freedom of expression. No, I do not have respect for people who engage in activities that harm others, but if someone wants to offer a different opinion, so be it.

If we ever expect to bring an end to the harsh line of division that seems to dominate us now, we have to start talking to one another rather than at one another.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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