A friendship, and more, in common

Thursday, October 4, 2018
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Montana Viewpoint

One of my favorite expressions is “often wrong, never in doubt.” I like to think it doesn’t apply to me – at least the “often” part – but I do come under the category of being overly certain in my opinions or in an event I swear happened. For instance, in the latter category would be my memory of where I left a tool. I will be looking for – say a lefthanded monkey wrench – and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was last seen exactly where it now isn’t. Often that experience has to do with the passage of time. If I lay a key on the counter it takes me no time at all to forget where I put it; however, if I have not used a tool in 30 years I can go exactly to the spot where I think it should be, and lo, it is there. I just don’t have time to wait 30 years before I find the key, unhappily.

Despite the certainty of my opinions I am usually quite happy to have new information that might change them. If I think I won’t be happy, I can always ignore the new information. The most pleasant part of changing my opinion is finding out that there is more substance than I thought in a person whom I have avoided for years – usually for no good reason other than perhaps their political persuasion, and that this new information puts the person in a positive light. Sometimes, seemingly for no reason at all, I will spend time with someone I do not think highly of just to see if I am wrong.

One memorable occasion, which I believe I have touched on before, was on a trip with a legislative committee to look at Montana state parks. We travelled a lot, and in the course of one trip from Glasgow to Glendive one member of the committee asked if we would like to visit a littleknown battlefield of the Indian wars that occurred just before Custer met his demise. The site was on his ranch. I was not fond of the guy, he was completely of a “let-er-rip” viewpoint when it came to mineral extraction, particularly coal. He had high disregard for any kind of “environmentalism”. I didn’t like his opinions but more important, I just didn’t care for him. We were travelling in several rigs, and I elected to ride in his. So, there we were, travelling across the Eastern Montana prairie. Now that’s a place that Western Montanans often deride because “there’s nothing there to see.” Myself, even though I live about as far west in Montana as it gets, I like the prairie. I find that while there may be “nothing there to see”, you can sure see a lot more of it.

But I digress. We are driving through the prairie on a county road, and as I am looking out the cab window I notice that the grass has gotten taller and more abundant, although in that country it doesn’t have to break a sweat to look more abundant, just grow a stem here and there. I asked if we were on his ranch. We were.

“You’ve got good pasture,” I say.

“Yes,” he says, “I have the luxury of not having to overgraze it.”

Suddenly I realized that this was a man who understood the ecology of his land, and the relationship between having to make loan payments and the temptation to make more shortterm money by running more cattle on the land than it will sustain. In my mind, he understood the environment as well as anyone. He just didn’t like to be told how to run his business.

We became friends, and while we still didn’t share most of our political opinions, we didn’t let that stand in the way, and sometimes, to the surprise of both of us, we sometimes found agreement where we didn’t think it was probable. Liking him made my life a lot easier, and I hope he profited from it likewise. It gave us, although not a philosophy in common, a friendship in common.

I am reminded of this because of Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Democratic Senator Chris Coons being able to work out a compromise on the way the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh should be handled by having the FBI look a bit further into allegations against Kavanaugh.

“Hearing each other – our common faith and our common enthusiasm for making a difference in this world – helped us trust each other,” Coons said on CBS News’ 60 Minutes last week, “And there’s not enough of that in the Senate. And there’s not enough of that in our country.”


Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.

We became friends, and while we still didn’t share most of our political opinions, we didn’t let that stand in the way, and sometimes to the suprise of both of us, we sometimes found agreement where we didn’t think it was probable.