Once a week, I attend a two-hour discussion group for men only in a local 50+ center. The participants range in age from their sixties to one hundred. There is no agenda for the meetings, but I note that the participants avoid subjects that will elicit passionate disagreement. Hence, because we have strong representation from both conservatives and progressives, we rarely have much to say about the Trump administration.
I hold something of a local hero standing with the group. They know about my exploits in Vietnam because several years ago I gave them my fall of Saigon presentation. Nearly all men of that age group are veterans, and these men are especially appreciative of military experience. Some of them have read my books and Thurston Clarke’s Honorable Exit, which came out this year. Clarke’s book tells half a dozen anecdotes about me during the last six weeks before Saigon fell.
I enjoy the group primarily because I learn from listening to them what public judgments about a variety of subjects are currently in vogue. I rarely have anything to say. My sense is that I simply don’t know enough about many current issues to be able to make a well-based comment. Other members don’t seem to be similarly constrained. I do speak up when topics I’m knowledgeable about—e.g., Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, Vietnam, the intelligence community, languages, music—come up, but even then I’m brief and to-the-point. I’m there to listen and learn.
I’m grateful to the group for allowing me to join them. Two members have become friends, and another half dozen are cordial allies. Even those who don’t see eye-to-eye with me are friendly. All of them teach me.