It was the summer of 1991. Mim and I were still living in Chicago, but we spent quite a bit of time in Cambridge that summer. It was the year my dad died, and we spent most weekends throughout the summer at the farmhouse, sorting through all my parents’ belongings. My mom had died five years earlier, and my dad had continued to live at the farmhouse. There had been no need to go through things after my mom’s death, so we had to go through everything in 1991.
It was during that summer that Mim and I decided to have my brother remodel the farmhouse into our dream house, and then we would sell our two-flat in Chicago and move to the farm. We had always dreamed of retiring on the farm, but in 1991 we made the decision to move to the farm while we were in the middle of our careers.
The following May the major remodeling project (gutting the house and doubling its size) was completed and we moved into our beautiful “new” century-old farmhouse.
Back in the summer of 1991, as we were going through the house, divvying up things among my brother and sister and their kids and us, we came upon my dad’s 22-rifle that he had kept in the closet next to the kitchen door. He didn’t use the gun for hunting. He used it to scare away wild animals from the house – like raccoons and an occasional fox.
My brother said we should keep the rifle for the same reason. We might need it to scare away some pesky wild animals. Shooting the rifle at the sky would do the job.
That seemed like a good idea to me. I remember learning to shoot a 22-rifle when I was a kid and Danny bought his first real 22-rifle. We lined up tin cans on the fireplace at the edge of the lawn and took turns seeing how many we could hit from about 50 feet away. It was fun. Now I could picture Mim and me having a little target practice with tin cans when we were settled into our new home on the farm.
But then Mim overheard us talking and said in no uncertain terms, “We are not having a gun in our house!” One of my nephews was delighted to hear her comment. He immediately offered to take the gun off our hands. So, I gave it to him. It wasn’t worth fighting over.
Mim and I obviously had very different feelings toward guns. I grew up playing cowboys and Indians with Danny and my cousins. We played with toy pistols and rifles all the time. Then we graduated to BB guns and pellet guns, and finally a 22-rifle. I knew you had to be careful with real guns, but I basically viewed them as toys for shooting at targets and potentially tools for scaring off wild animals. (I never had any desire to hunt.)
Mim, on the other hand, saw guns as dangerous weapons. She didn’t play with toy guns as a kid. Her primary association with guns came from her job as a nurse in Chicago. She had to try to repair some of the damage done by real guns when she worked in a hospital emergency room. She had such a strong aversion to guns that she actually quit her job as a hospice nurse in Chicago when her employer’s solution to the problem of a nurse needing to go into a rough neighborhood alone in the middle of the night to care for a dying patient was to supply the nurse with an escort who carried a gun.
Obviously, Mim and I had completely different reactions to the prospect of keeping a gun in our farmhouse. Fortunately, we were able to quickly resolve our differences.
So, why can’t our country resolve our differences about gun ownership? I think the basic reason is really very simple. Each side refuses to acknowledge that the other side has some valid reasons behind their feelings and opinions.
One of the best business books I ever read was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The major premise behind this book is that the way to be most effective is to really strive to understand the perspective of the person you disagree with. (I’ll admit I read the book about 40 years ago, but that’s what I remember most from it.)
There may be other factors that play into the gun controversy, but if everyone who holds a strong opinion on the matter would really try to understand, not necessarily agree with, but simply understand another perspective on the issue, there might be some hope for a good resolution, a reasonable compromise.
I’m sure that’s why Mim and I could quickly resolve our disagreement over keeping the 22- rifle. I understood how terrifying it would be for Mim to have a gun in the house. And I measured that fear against my need to protect us from wild animals. Also, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to engage Mim in shooting at tin cans even though I had briefly fantasized about it. Giving away the gun was a no-brainer. In reality, over the next 20-plus years, I would have needed the gun only once for protection, and in that case, I got my brother to come over with one of his guns to send the huge menacing snake in the asparagus patch to its final resting place.
I guess the gun controversy isn’t the only ongoing disaster our country is unable to resolve because of our inability to acknowledge the validity of different perspectives on the issues. Immigration. Gay marriage. Abortion. Global weather change. Freedom of religion. And on and on.
We need to learn to listen. And to understand each other. And to respect each other. These are the processes we need to value. Not who can shout the loudest. Or raise the most money to buy the most politicians.
We need to take out the earplugs, soften our voices, and listen. Especially this year, when the tendency will be to do just the opposite.