When we sat down, two men at the next barstools over were talking about Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the Three-Fifths Compromise that made it possible for the U.S. Constitution to become ratified. I know this because I was right next to them and they were very loud.
I don’t go to bars often, but I’m guessing that the Three-Fifths Compromise isn’t your typical Friday-night-watching-the-Reds-at-the-bar conversation.
The 1787 Compromise said that three out of every five slaves in slave-holding states would be counted as part of that state’s official population, which, in turn, would determine that state’s number of Congressional representatives.
But the Compromise, and what it implied about personhood was and is complicated. The idea had been floated a few years earlier, in 1783, when the issue of whether or not to count a slave as a person would have determined a state’s tax liability. During that argument, the North or South were opposite sides of the ‘count or not’ question.
The men at the bar were deeply engaged; each repeatedly asking the other to clarify a particular point. I eventually tuned out so that I could tune into my husband, an actual History Detective, who wasn't listening to them at all. But as a communicator, I couldn’t help but admire the effort they put into the conversation, and how rewarding it was when one said, “Wait! We’re saying the same thing!”
After a while they introduced themselves to one another, shook hand and said goodbye.
Two strangers listened, clarified their words and made sure they understood one another. Great Communication! I’ll toast to that!