I think you can learn something from everyone you meet. I think I learned something from the one time this Jew met a Nazi.
I was sitting in a bar with some Australians I met at a hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia, one of my favorite cities. It was the hipster neighborhood, in a hipster bar. It sounds exotic, but it looked like Williamsburg.
Except for the two guys at the adjacent table who yelled and cheersed us when they heard us speak English. They came over. Fun!
I tried to ask him what “anti-fascista” entailed, exactly.
“I love police. Fuck the police. I fuck the police.” He humped the air.
“I am gay. I am not gay. I fight for gay.” He humped the air.
“I am not gay. I like the dick. I fight for the gay.” He fisted the air.
Most stories we tell make sense. It’s easy to connect the dots in universal situations. But when you meet an ex-Neo-Nazi, logic vanishes. There was laughter and smiling, until.
“Americans?” Me, yes. “We don’t like Americans! Fuck you!” They were smiling, though. Jokes are good. In my head, they’re wearing Canadian tuxedos and have long blonde hair and scruff. Go with it. Biker-gang-ish, except every other sentence they kept saying “anti-fascista!” That seemed like a good thing.
I like to reason with people. I think most people are good. The one guy was smiling.
“Fuck Obama!” He seemed angry now.
You don’t know what this dude has been through. I fake a laugh. “Politics … I don’t care!” I waved my hands in a field goal is not good sign. “People, good! Me, nice!” I explained in broken English and gestures that politics are confusing and shitty but, for the most part, Americans are good. Or at least some are.
“Yes! Cheers!” We drank. Most people respond to you acknowledging their perspective. I got how he could hate America and not be a bad person.
It must have been my dark beard. Or my shnoz. A minute later, he asked, “Are you Jew?”
The correct answer was no. But my Jewish mother taught me not to lie.
“Yes.” I froze.
“I was Nazi.” He stopped smiling for the first time. My brain couldn’t notice that he looked in his late-30s. Though I suppose Ex-Neo-Nazi isn’t less scary than Ex-Nazi.
I sat. Beer swirled in my stomach, threatening to burst onto his face. I’m glad I didn’t puke on the Nazi. I shook. Somehow maintained eye contact.
We looked into each other’s eyes for what felt like 1523 seconds. It wasn’t romantic.
“Fuck Israel!” He stopped smiling. He looked like …
… a Nazi meeting a Jew.
My old argument still applied. “Politics?” I made my EW face and did my FIELD GOAL NOT GOOD motion. Politics suck. I get it. I have no problem with you disliking US or Israeli politics. That does not mean you should murder me, the American Jew, however.
“But people, OK?”
“So, Israel. People, OK?”
“NO! FUCK ISRAEL! FUCK PEOPLE!”
I know many nice Israelis. This was not the time to push my argument. I froze.
And then I blacked out.
All I remember is, eventually, he demanded I buy him a beer, and I refused. He was smiling. Ish. I don’t know why I refused. I stuck my same smiley Jewy face in his scary/smiley Nazi mug the whole time. The Ex-Nazi didn’t punch the Current Jew. I still don’t understand what happened.
Standard Tuesday night out in Slovenia. Slovenia is actually one of the nicest, safest, most beautiful places I’ve been to. Crazy people are rare but universal.
That moment has stuck with me. Him going, “Are you Jew?” Me hesitating. Locking eyes. Saying “yes.” And then him, knowing I “was Jew,” without hesitating, saying “I was Nazi.”
It’s the high-stakes version of someone saying something I disagree with strongly. Politics. Personal. Whatever. You know they’re the metaphorical Jew, and they give you a chance to say you’re a metaphorical Nazi.
Most people either argue or keep quiet. It’s bullshit to think the goal is to have the more forceful argument. So I usually shut up.
But isn’t that just as bad as arguing? No new perspectives given. No learning. For either person.
Maybe I should be more like the Nazi.
Kidding. The Nazi spoke up immediately because he was a sociopath. Don’t be a sociopath.
But we always have those “ARE YOU JEW?” moments. Someone says something. You know your response will make you their temporary Nazi. They’re an Atheist, you’re a Christian. Your friend says he can’t quit the job he hates, but you know it’s bullshit. Or whatever.
What’s the point in having a perspective if you won’t share it? As long as you listen to the opposing perspective. People who matter will listen. They might not accept it. You can agree to disagree. But that’s better than smiling and nodding. I might learn something if I’d grow cojones and speak my mind more.
The Tao Te Ching says, “Express yourself completely, then keep quiet.” I forget the first part when it’s hard.
Venture Capitalist/smart guy Marc Andreesen has a motto: “Strong opinions, loosely held.”
I’m going to start speaking up like a Nazi meeting a Jew.
But next time I meet a real Nazi, I’m shutting up and running away.
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