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Justine Tideman's big, crazily diverse family taught her how to get along in big, crazily diverse America.
By Justine Tideman
Three years ago, I joined the Army National Guard. It surprises people because I'm a middle-aged psychologist, born and raised in San Francisco, and I probably hold most of the values you expect.
Recently I completed Basic Training in Texas. There I was in the back of an Army truck, holding a rifle and wearing an Army uniform. My feet hurt, it was hot and the truck was so crowded many of us sat on the floor. We chatted to pass the time. One guy liked to criticize Obama. Before I got to basic training I'd never seen a real live person do that -- only on TV. When people found out what I do and where I'm from, they wanted to know what the hell I was doing there, just like my friends at home.
It's a family story. I have nine brothers and sisters. My parents were both married several times and most of my siblings were brought up across the country by different people. Our family joke is, "We are related to one in 10 Americans." Two of my brothers take the Bible literally and insist the Earth is only 5,000 years old. My oldest sister was a Freedom Rider and a Communist. My mother described my late sister Cynthia as right of Louis the XIV. I could go on, but you get the idea. Fitting in was impossible.
Our family stayed connected by observing my dad's Rules for Conversing:
First, "Listen. Talking with people who disagree with you is an opportunity to learn why other people think the way they do."
Second, "Treat everyone with respect." For example, "No name calling. It's what people resort to when they don't have a legitimate point."
Last but not least, "A true intellectual will change his mind when presented with new information."
I can see why people think I don't fit into the Army, but I guess that's the point. For years I only paid lip service to the values of listening, respect and an open mind because my thinking was never challenged. So, when we soldiers jumped out the back of that truck with our rifles, and I recalled how much my dad abhorred guns and distrusted the military, I thought, he would be so proud of me right now.
With a Perspective, I'm Justine Tideman.