When the Washington Post accidentally published Defense Secretary James Mattis’ phone number in May, high-school sophomore Teddy Fischer, who lives in Washington State, wrote down the number. Fischer called the number to see if it was real but didn’t leave a message. After a conversation with someone in his journalism class, Fischer decided to text the Sec. Def. to ask if he would be willing to give an interview to the high school paper. To his surprise, Mattis returned his call and agreed. Fischer asked Mattis about that decision during the interview:

TEDDY: Out of thousands of calls, why did you respond to this one?

MATTIS: You left a message there and I was going through listening to the messages and deleting them. But you’re from Washington state. I grew up in Washington state on the other side of the mountains there on the Columbia River. I just thought I’d give you a call.

Whenever I can, I try to work with students who are doing research projects. I was at Stanford University for a little over three years after I got out of the Marines before I got surprised by this request I’d come back and be the secretary of defense. So, I’ve always tried to help students because I think we owe it to you young folks to pass on what we learned going down the road so that you can make your own mistakes, not the same ones we made.

And it turns out to have been a pretty good decision on Mattis’ part because the interview is both interesting and humanizing for the Defense Secretary. For example:

TEDDY: You were quoted recently in the The New Yorker as saying that what worried you most in your new position as secretary of defense was “The lack of political unity in America.” How do you believe younger generations of Americans should be working towards improving America’s political climate?

MATTIS: I think the first thing is to be very slow to characterize your fellow Americans. I know that when people have to run for office they have to say “I’m smart and my opponent’s dumb,” or “I’ve got better ideas than my opponent.” That’s politics there’s nothing wrong with that. But, I get very very concerned when I hear people start characterizing their opponents as stupid. I still understand that because politics is a little rough and tumble at times, but I don’t buy it and when they start calling each other either crazy or evil. You and I, we don’t compromise with crazy people or evil people. And so, I don’t think that’s helpful. Generally speaking, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them crazy or evil.

By sitting down and talking with them, after having a good strong argument, going out and having a root beer with them, maybe showing up at the same church, maybe going to the hospital to see their kid when they’re having their appendix out, reminds you that they’re human beings too. There’s no reason to get all worked up as if someone is evil or crazy. For one thing, none of us are perfect and all-knowing, so this might be their right, and that’s why I don’t care for ideological people. It’s like those people just want to stop thinking. They know what they think, they don’t read anything but one newspaper that agrees with them or they watch only one television news show because it reinforces them, instead of listening to the ones that don’t agree with them. So, I think the way you get over it is, you take people one at a time and you give them the same credit you give yourself and your ideas.

King 5 interviewed Fischer about his experience. I suspect this interview would be a big leg up if he applied to journalism school, but Fischer says he isn’t sure that’s what he wants to do with his life.