I am a firm believer that a person cannot have enough friends, especially not enough good friends. Friendship, like marriage, is something you have to care about and work at to maintain. Unless a friend steals from you, deceives you, deserts you, betrays you, or turns out to be an ax murderer who tries to kill you, I see no reason to end the friendship. You certainly wouldn’t consider ending the friendship over petty differences either, right? For example, rooting for rival sports teams. Perhaps liking different genres of music, literature, or art. Preferring different types of cuisines. Dog lover versus cat lover. Kirk versus Picard. [Kirk! Definitely Kirk!] And so on.
We manage to make allowances for those individual choices on the part of our friends and family members. So, why is it so difficult, even impossible, for so many to tolerate differing political opinions in those closest to them? Someone explain it to me because I do not understand it.
I won’t mention the actual offensive names, slurs, epithets, and profanity I’ve heard exchanged between friends and family members, in person or on social media. I doubt it’s necessary. By now just about everyone has experienced at least one unpleasant episode, and it seems to be growing worse with each passing year. Some of the exchanges I read on Twitter nearly curled my hair. Civility has suffered mightily in the age of social media.
My friend Paul and I have been friends for over forty years. Both of us are writers. He and I worked for different newspapers down south, and we both were members of a science fiction literary group. In addition to writing and science fiction, we both are addicted to old movies. Old westerns are a particular favorite. Luckily for us, our spouses tolerated our eccentricities and never called out the men in white jackets to take us away.
We became long-distance friends when MG and I moved up north. We exchanged gifts at Christmas and corresponded regularly. Oddly enough we never discussed politics. It wasn’t until we both got involved in social media that we discovered our political philosophies were on opposite sides of the spectrum.
A few years back, I posted a comment on Facebook regarding a political issue. Paul posted a reply with the opposite opinion. It came as a surprise to discover that Paul is a liberal. I, on the other hand, am a conservative.
I hesitated to respond. I had seen so many friendships blow up on Facebook. I didn’t want that to happen to ours. Well, as long as I’ve known Paul, he’s never been the least bit petty about anything so I decided to risk it. I responded.
To cut to the chase, the result was a spirited discussion on the pro and con merits of the issue. We’ve had many such spirited discussions since then. Paul and I appear to be a rare exception to the tarnished rule of hate thy neighbor if he belongs to the “other” political party. What’s our secret? It’s really very simple.
We don’t question each other’s choice.
We don’t question each other’s intelligence.
We don’t question each other’s sanity.
We don’t question each other’s empathy for others.
We don’t question each other’s patriotism or loyalty.
We don’t question each other’s parentage or call each other nasty names.
We behave like civilized adults. We listen and consider the other’s point of view and refrain from being judgmental. We honor our friendship.
See? Very simple.
On our way down south to spend Christmas with Firstborn and his family, we stopped off for a brief visit with Paul and his wife Maxine. We met at a restaurant and caught each other up on our busy lives and how our kids were doing. When it was time to leave and get on the road again, Maxine—who is a rabid sports fan—remarked that she was glad Paul had me to talk to about books, movies and politics.
Paul said, “We make each other think. Sometimes we even agree.”
I said, “Yes, we do. Shame on you for making me think.”
We all laughed.
We’re going to meet up again on the way back home if our schedules permit. MG and Maxine will talk about sports. Paul and I will talk about books and movies. We may or may not get into politics. It depends. Whatever we discuss, we’ll still be friends—in spite of distance and especially in spite of politics.
As I mentioned above, a person can never have enough friends. Be sure to hang on to the good ones. I do.