No, it wasn’t Aslan, the fictional lion in C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. There, Aslan is the wise and benevolent Lord of Narnia, generally meant by Lewis to be an alternative form of Jesus. No, it wasn’t that Aslan.
The Aslan I met is a cab driver in Chicago. I met him right after I was interviewed last Thursday on WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio, about my new book, United America. (You can listen to the interview here.)
The WBEZ studios are located about halfway out on Chicago’s Navy Pier. To hail a cab, you have to walk west to the beginning of the pier. I took the first cab in line.
The driver, a young man, was curious about what I did. I told him a little and he asked more questions. I opened up a bit more and mentioned that I was just coming from WBEZ.
“The 10 values!” he exclaimed, turning around to look at me. “I just heard you on the radio! But I had a customer so I couldn’t hear about all 10 values.”
I reached into my briefcase and pulled out a small poster of the 10 core values. I gave it to him. Curious myself, I leaned over to read his license, and saw that his name was Aslan. Aslan is Turkish for lion.
“Where are you from, Aslan?”
“I’m from Kazakhstan. Do you know where it is?”
“I do.” Kazakhstan is a large, oil-rich, landlocked country in Central Asia. It was part of the former Soviet Union.
Aslan went on to tell me that he has been in America for only three years, recently married, and has a baby. He is studying computer programming at night, driving a cab during the day to support his family.
As we drove through Chicago, I remembered that I had a copy of United America with me. “Aslan,” I said, “would you accept a copy of my book?” He was thrilled and thanked me several times. I inscribed it to him and his family.
Now, you may be thinking that I gave a gift to Aslan. I see it the other way around. Last Thursday was International Pay It Forward Day. I had blogged about the topic all week, and I was beginning to feel like a hypocrite—I hadn’t practiced what I was preaching. Aslan gave me the opportunity to pay it forward—and right on the day itself.
And, our chance encounter was a moment of civil dialogue.
Can you recall a time when a hot topic came up—and you were surprised at how calmly people discussed the issue?
What tips do you have for encouraging civil dialogue?