I’ve lost a lifelong friend (50+ years). We met in grade school, and for half a century we shared countless moments surrounding school, play, work, travel, entertainment, sports, food and beverage (probably more beverage), friends, family, and eventually, politics.
As with all normal friendships, especially ones of this duration, we have long lists of commonalities and differences. Years ago those differences were largely complimentary, where one’s strengths would make up for the other’s limitations when needed. For example, one of us is very creative, while the other is not. One of us is very organized, the other, not. In those situations that called for creativity or organization, we’d cover for each other (rather fabulously I might add) much to our mutual benefit, and with mutual appreciation. The complimentary differences were as foundational to the friendship as our similarities, and perhaps even more valuable.
Again, as with normal friendships, there were also differences that were not complimentary. However, while those differences were often in conflict, the conflict remained isolated to the behavior, or the attitude, or the idea. We usually did not allow the conflict to rise to the level of being divisive between us. And on those occasions when it did, we worked through it pretty quickly, because the friendship was more valuable to us than whatever is was that was the source of conflict.
Sadly, over time that changed.
And why? I’m sure you can guess… 21st century politics.
I think of all of the other conflicts we had over the years; ego, cliques, work ethic, drug and alcohol use, money, family dynamics, girlfriends, too many hours of close proximity, too many months (and miles) of separation, and even 20th century politics. Decades of all that were nothing compared to the devastation that has occurred largely due to recent political discussion. In fact, discussion isn’t even the right word, for there is no more discussion. There seems to be only posturing, pretentiousness, denial, arrogance, self-righteous outrage and narcissism, all of which make for terrible discussion.
My friend and I are a microcosm of today’s American society, and it’s a shame really, for all of us. We’ve become so polarized that even the most prominent, deep-seated similarities no longer matter. All that matters is the degree to which we can ardently defend our respective positions to the point of conquering (and even humiliating) anyone with the gall to have a view that differs from ours.
Differences used to be just that, differences. Nowadays, it seems that any difference is taken as disrespect, an offensive form of aggression that constitutes genuine violence to some. Most of us were raised with “Don’t hit me!” which we all agreed was wrong, and doing so often resulted in one getting (rightfully so) hit back. Now, it’s “Don’t say that to me!” or “Don’t even talk to me!” We’ve witnessed an increasing number of people respond to free speech with physical violence. In the cyber world, former friends now block each other on their phones or on facebook, not because of a threat, not even because of a perceived insult, but over a simple difference of opinion.
This has to change, and that change begins with each and every one of us.
When it comes to taking a stand regarding current political topics (regardless of however contentious they are) we have to decide just how important is this really? Is this in fact, a hill we want to die on? If we choose to do battle, we do so fully aware that the outcome is in question, we may win, or we may lose. However, one thing (and only one thing) is certain, eventually we will die. When that moment comes, do we want to be standing tall, triumphant atop the kingdom of our own making, or do we want to be shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand, and heart-to-heart with our comrades in life, differences and all?