A little while ago, I went to a neighborhood greasy spoon for breakfast. It was pretty late on a weekday morning, so the crowd was thin: just a young couple in a booth towards the front, and one large table with a bunch of older folks, I’d guess in their late 70s or early 80s. The big table looked like three couples, and two of the men were having a lively conversation I couldn’t help but overhear.

When I walked in, the conversation was circling around some issue involving presidential politics. One guy—we’ll call him Mike—was upset about the way President Obama was handling some current issue. He didn’t have much in the way of concrete reasoning, and would occasionally jump to other past events he though Obama handled poorly, as matter-of-fact support for this being part of a trend, without any attempt to make that part of the case. Obama’s (presumed, obvious) mishandling of Benghazi, for example, was evidence of his mishandling of whatever the current issue was. Mike’s friend—we’ll call him Jim—was trying hard to address each point with actual facts as Mike brought them up, but was clearly getting exhausted trying to keep up with Mike’s flitting from point to point without actually engaging any of them. Jim was willing to concede Obama had gotten some things wrong (he agreed that the Guantánamo prison still being open was disgraceful, for example), but didn’t see that proving anything about the ACA or economic policy.

At times it felt like I was listening to a calmer, 80-year-old version of myself arguing with the Internet.

I got the impression that Mike’s criticism was prompted by something the television in the diner, tuned to some cable news channel, had been showing earlier, but it had since moved on to covering the then-current protests in Baltimore over the police killing of Freddie Gray. Eventually, Mike caught up.

If you’ve got some of the same learned biases I do, Mike’s arguments on Baltimore sounded pretty much exactly like what you’d expect from an 80-year-old white dude sitting in a diner. They started bad and just got worse. His volume increased, up until he asserted of black people that “they’re expendable” because “they don’t want to work”. When Jim said “Well, I don’t know about that”, Mike exclaimed “I do! I know!”, then realized his views had left the realm of what’s generally considered acceptable for public consumption and brought his volume back down— but certainly didn’t stop arguing his position. His views got slowly more repugnant, until he made some comment I couldn’t catch all of involving a comparison between black people… and dogs.

Jim, who’d increasingly sounded more sad about what he was hearing than angry, responded simply: “Well, we were dogs in Europe.”

Mike responded only with a half-hearted “well”, and that was pretty much that. I don’t know Jim and Mike, don’t know their stories, or who the “we” in that sentence is, and I don’t know how much the point really stuck with Mike, but I think, at least in that moment, he saw what he was doing. The whole thing was very heartening. Maybe we do sometimes learn from our history, and maybe we can empathize with people different from ourselves, whether the difference is skin color or worldview. Maybe I can recognize and challenge some of my own biases, and maybe arguing about things and wanting them to be better won’t inherently lead to me being a cranky old ass by the time I’m half Jim’s age.

Thanks, Jim.