If I hadn’t known M.D. Harmon, I might not have liked him.

The arch-conservative writer whose column led the Press Herald’s Friday op-ed page for more than 20 years was a hard-core opponent of what I consider fundamental freedoms, like who gets to decide when to end a pregnancy or marry the person they love. He wrote stinging commentary that could be hurtful to people who are important to me. He made me mad.

But I did get to know Mike Harmon and I liked him very much, so his tragic, pointless death in an accidental shooting last week still has me reeling.

We shared a small office space for more than a decade. For a while, we were a two-headed editorial board with no tie-breaking vote if we couldn’t agree, and we didn’t agree on much. If we both dug in, we would each have to write a mini-column that would be laid out, side by side, with mine on the left and Mike’s on the right (of course).

He was the kind of friend you get to make at work. Through no choice of your own, you’re thrown together and spend more time with each other than you do with your family. You see your co-workers at their best and at their worst and really get to know them.

Here’s what I got to know about Mike:

He was courteous, treating people with respect even when they did not respect him. (For a while and without complaint, he regularly processed letters to the editor from a writer whose email address ended with “@mdharmonisanidiot.com.”)

He was kind – kind to me, kind to other people in the office, kind to strangers. He bought doughnuts. He would recommend science fiction books to my teenage daughter. He used to make an annual trip to the Maine State Prison as part of a Christian ministry group.

And he was an old-school newspaperman, who felt more allegiance to the readers who bought copies of the newspaper than to anyone who happened to own the newspaper itself.

He was a stickler for detail who couldn’t rest until there was a half-point rule around every cartoon and the right number of picas between the lines.

He liked bad puns, the Pittsburgh Steelers and golden retrievers. He believed in God and loved his family and the United States of America.

So, how do I reconcile the Mike who I knew and liked, with the M.D. Harmon I didn’t know and thought I couldn’t like?

It involves something that Harmon himself must have understood, sharing so many years of his work life with people who disagreed with him on nearly every issue that mattered: There is much more to us than the things that we think and say.

He held strongly to his beliefs. He was a passionate advocate, and that, at times, could make him rigid and impenetrable. He gave no ground. (Ask anyone who ever served on an editorial board with him.)

But people are not ideas. We are more complicated than the caricatures we draw of each other – we are even more complicated than the life stories we tell ourselves.

It’s an error to think that we can know much that really matters about anyone just because we know who they voted for or what kind of bumper sticker they plastered on their car. So, if that’s the case, it makes sense to treat everyone you encounter with respect and kindness, even when you disagree with them. Maybe, especially when you disagree with them.

Doing that is not so easy when you are doing battle with people who spout ideas that you feel are just plain wrong. You can’t accept that they could really believe the crazy things they say.

For instance, I often hear people on the left dismiss right-wing political ideas, saying that they were invented to fit the economic interests of the super rich and sold to people who aren’t smart enough to look out for their own interests.

Well, Harmon championed all of the conservative ideas and I can assure you that – after a lifetime in the newspaper business – he was not rich, let alone super rich. And the Bowdoin graduate was not dumb.

He was a complicated person, just as we all are complicated, and the things that he said and wrote over the years matter, but not nearly as much as the man mattered to his family and friends.

Today, we can all be sorry for their loss.

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Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @gregkesich