Friends and Politics

Category: Weekly Columns

In this election year, it seems that the discourse is more raw, rough, and angry than ever before. It seems that posturing is taking place among the candidates, of course, but also mainstream media is clearly favoring one candidate/party over another. How does this impact our relationships? Does it impact them?

One of my favorite movies of all-time is a 1970’s French film by the renowned director, Claude LeLouche. This movie, “And Now My Love,” has a conceit in its concept that only the French would do and, in this case, pull off magnificently. It is the story of love at first sight. However, the destined lovers do not meet until the very end of the movie as they are figuratively passing ships in the night. We do learn that they share one thing in common – they both take three lumps of sugar in their coffee.

Should that be the basis of a relationship? Maybe not, but it was an allegory for this particular couple’s destiny. When I got divorced and began dating again, I realized that my three lumps of sugar were not what I had always thought they would be. Religion turned out not to be that important a difference as my wife turned out to be Christian, while I’m Jewish. But, the fact that we both shared the basic tenets that both our religions hold, turned out to be more relevant than if I’d met a secular Jew. She believed in the Old Testament, just as I do. She believes in the values it espoused and our only difference, essentially, was the role Jesus played in the world.

Similarly, we shared the same politics and I realized that I could not be with a woman who thought the opposite of me. The consequences of that thinking, in my opinion, would be catastrophic for our country, our world, and more importantly to me, for the future for my boys. Of course I don’t mean on every single policy, but an overall belief system.

As my view of the world and my values solidified, I began looking at my friend’s values and views. I found that with many on “the other side,” we could just not have a respectful dialogue. In some cases, we agreed to just take politics off the table and continue to stay friends and talk about the more micro issues of our lives: work, family, fun.

In other cases, the extreme views and values of some friends just made it hard to continue the friendship. I found that these friendships more or less drifted apart in a natural way without any rancor though for me, with the realization that our time had passed (as friends).

Of course, we should not choose our friends solely by their ideological views. Or should we? I would suggest that friends we had from years past should be given more slack in this regard and just as with the example described earlier, maybe some topics are just not discussed.

However, with new friends and especially with a life-long partner, I believe sharing similar values and (political) views just is easier. Of course it does none of us any good to just have friends and/or family that simply agree with everything we say or do. But, on the other hand, some views/values are just beyond casual discussion and inevitably lead to passions getting inflamed.

Okay, I’m a pretty out-there guy with out-there views of life and the world. I could just keep my mouth shut and not let some of these macro issues of the world intrude in my personal life. But, I’m just not that sort. Passivity about anything isn’t in my blood.

I have no doubt that this column will stir much debate and disagreement with this point-of-view. You are welcome to express those contrary views to me via email or in the comments section of my website. When I wrote a pretty over-the-top rant about the Occupy Wall Street movement, the response was significant.

Happily, the vast majority of those that disagreed with me did so with thought, respect, and intelligence. They were still wrong, of course, but at least the discourse was civil. Those that simply called me names usually did so anonymously and I did not delete a single one of those hateful comments because they really did speak for themselves and require no response.

In my personal life, I’d rather not have the rancor that we are seeing in the public sphere. I am glad that my friendships have evolved so that the majority of those close to me do think along similar lines, though with varying degrees of harmony.

Frankly, most of the friendships that have drifted have done so not due to politically different views, but just the natural evolution of our changing lives and/or a silly, small incident that grew to more than it ever deserved and unfortunately, derailed the friendship. I’m not proud of those friendships that ended over trivia, but I’m far from a perfect human being.

What do you think about this issue? Have your friendships endured significantly different political positions. Have your views of the world changed while your friend’s views haven’t? Please share your thoughts.

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    I am an independent and I readily cross party lines on an issue by issue basis. I don’t have to agree with you and you don’t have to agree with me to be friends. That is a position I hold fast to with very few exceptions.

    Those tend to hit lines where I believe a particular ideology is dangerous.

    I should add that sometimes I won’t discuss politics/religion with some people because they don’t have the background to have a real conversation. They talk about what should be and not what is. 

    It is tough to get anywhere with that kind of thing.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      We agree that sometimes it’s just not worth talking about!

  • http://cirquedumot.com/new-readers/ Susan Silver

    You bring up some great points here. I think about my step-mother and father. They have very different political and religious beliefs. Yet, it doesn’t cause them tension. They are good at agreeing to disagree. I have seen them both passionately argue their cases, but there is no anger. It may be because they have known each other forever. They were HS sweethearts that reconnected later in life.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      That is the key, Susan – being “good at agreeing to disagree.” What a sweet story, too – of them re-connecting!

  • jetts31

    This is sort of like a Philadelphia Eagles fan falling in love with a Dallas Cowboy fan isn’t it?
    I think we could spend all day focusing on our differences if we so choose. My friends are my friends whether they are blue or red, Jewish or Christian. They’re my friends for many other reasons. That being said…I’d rather not talk about politics or religion with them.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Point, Set, Match – re: your last sentence! lol

  • http://twitter.com/BarryBirkett Barry Birkett

    Gee, Bruce, not wading into controversy at all! I generally run the other way when the discussion turns to politics, simply because there seems to be so little reasoned discourse in such discussions of late.  Whether it’s because people care more about politics or because — as it appears to me — politics has wandered so far into the parts of their world about which they care, too many people seem unwilling to agree to disagree.  

    Our differences in viewpoint can make us stronger as a society and nation when we borrow the best from all.  Our differences can tear us apart, though, when we refuse to accept there may be answers better than ours sometimes.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Incredibly well said, BB…you know me though, I always wade right into it!

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  • http://twitter.com/EmeliaSam Dr. Emelia Sam

    Unfortunately, I live in DC where such discourse is as passionate as it can get so I tend to shy away from it. As long as disagreements comes packaged in respect, no problem. However, I do notice that politically, most, if not all, of my friends have similar beliefs though we’re far from identical. In my opinion, over-identification with anything, especially religion & politics, is detrimental to the whole. 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I love how you say, “Unfortunately, I live in DC…” Dr. Sam! 

      • http://twitter.com/EmeliaSam Dr. Emelia Sam

        haha…so much beauty and so much “other stuff.” I thought 2008 was intense. I’m anticipating the next six months. It won’t be pretty. 

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          You know the irony. It’s NEVER been pretty in politics. People forget how much rancor there was in decades and centuries past. It’s important stuff to people get heated…not saying it’s right, just sayin’

  • Bill Draeger

    “Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.”  – Ronald Reagan.

    Great graphics and, as usual, a thought provoking blog.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx Bill and TY Mr. Reagan for more words of wisdom!

  • http://twitter.com/CrossBetsy Betsy Cross

    I do not discuss politics with friends! I’m always disappointed. 
    I’ve watched a lot of couples take the wife’s stand on political, social and religious issues as if the guy has been brain washed. Guess he (they- the spouse/boyfriend) just likes to feel supportive?
    I love a good discussion. I can learn a lot about a person when it comes to politics. But, for the most part, even with my mom and brothers, it’s a taboo subject because they get very critical and the conversation always gets too heated! You know you’re going into dangerous territory when veins start bulging and faces get red! LOL!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I try sooooo hard to avoid that discussion, too Betsy…but sometimes, it just slips out…LOL!

      • http://twitter.com/CrossBetsy Betsy Cross

        Bruce, I can picture you LOVING a heated debate, smiling all the way! 🙂

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          Ha! In those kind of debates Betsy, I’m not always smiling! 

          • http://twitter.com/CrossBetsy Betsy Cross

            Just made me wonder how fun it would be to egg someone on just to watch the reaction..I think I’d laugh and give myself away!

          • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

            Shhhh, I do THAT all the time! BTW, join in the debate on my current 12Most.com post: http://12most.com/2012/05/02/lessons-for-kids-going-to-college/

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  • http://brianvickery.com Brian Vickery

    You are definitely touching upon some lightning rod topics, Bruce. I definitely keep my political views to myself. Suffice it to say that I am ideologically and fiscally conservative. As a result, I tend to be quiet when my stream fills with vehement posts/responses regarding either party. I’m with what I saw in a recent post – Rather than the Democrats or Republicans winning…when do the American people win?

    I do believe if we were more charitable as a society, we would not “require” as many entitlement programs. And I do believe in being proactive…and sometimes preemptive…versus reactive. To get into political discussions (and I never read the paper and get disgusted watching the political spins on the TV while working out) is to experience the height of counter-productivity. And time is a commodity you can never get back. I’ll spend mine behaving responsibly and treating folks with respect…

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      SO FUNNY! You start by saying you keep your views to yourself…then you immediately share them! LOVE YOU, BV! Why “Suffice it to say?” I’m ALL FOR Americans winning but, for now, we are dominated by a two-party system so if you don’t take a side, you are not making ANY difference! 

      We were MUCH MORE charitable in the past, btw…and you do know which party donates the most to charity, don’t you BV? 

      I’m very glad we respect each other…

      • http://brianvickery.com Brian Vickery

        I do not pay attention to which party gives more to charity. I will say it is probably a fraction of what it should be. Same could be said for individuals. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we somehow managed to live on 90% of our earnings…and donated the other 10% to charity? Properly managed/overseen, it would most likely be a less expensive option than tax burdens supporting entitlements. However, I also know this will never happen. We like our money as evidenced by my own district’s continued votes against taxes directly in support of our education system that continues to trim back and work off of old infrastructure.

        We lack the long-view beyond our own instant gratification. Disappoints…

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          I don’t pay attention to which party gives more but the TRUTH of that says a lot about the party that supposedly cares so much for the downtrodden. Action do speak louder than words, in this case, I believe!

          As for education, we already spend more per student in this country than the majority of countries whose test scores FAR exceed ours. It’s not how much is spent, it’s how it’s spent!

          • http://brianvickery.com Brian Vickery

            I would agree – I know some of our initiatives were shot down because they wanted to throw the tax funds into the general fund and hopefully earmark for education. Uh…NO! And how is it possible we can spend more on education yet underpay our teachers as well as require them to maintain student/teacher ratios of 35:1 up to 50:1.  Why is it we are ranked in the mid-20s compared to the world when it comes to math/language/science scores? AAARGH! Of course, that is why I am writing my recent Education Series – I think industry needs to step in on a volunteer basis and be difference makers when it comes to educating the next generation.

            Hah, good thing we didn’t get into privatization of Social Security, socialized healthcare, and flat tax rates or something ;). I’ll try to stay silent, vote with my head, and work on being a good steward of what I’ve been given (and passing along those values to my kids).

          • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

            The Teacher’s Unions have done NO GOOD for them or the kids, as well! YOU are doing YOUR good works one day at a time, one person at a time…THAT is the way we can Repair the World. BTW, please weigh in on the debate going on over at my 12Most post on college:

            http://12most.com/2012/05/02/lessons-for-kids-going-to-college/

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  • David Weber

    These are some very thoughtful comments.  When I
    encounter someone who thinks differently from me, I am uncomfortable only under
    certain circumstances:

     

    1. Does the person disparage me personally for having
    such-and-such a position? If he or she does, I don’t like it.

    2. Does the person listen to and reflect on the merits of
    my point of view? If not, I don’t like it.

    3. Does the person attempt to persuade me of their point
    of view from a one-up (i.e., superior) position as opposed to a collegial or
    mutually respectful one?  If he or she does, I don’t like it.

    4. Does the person admit to the weak points in his or her
    position?  If not, I don’t like it.

    5. Does the person get his or her ideas from essentially
    one source all or most of the time, for all most issues? If he or she does, I
    don’t care one way or the other particularly, but I want that person to
    recognize that when you’re talking about complex issues, one-stop shopping does
    not provide you with the insight and information you really need.

    6. Can the person argue both sides of an issue (and a
    third or fourth, as appropriate)?  And I don’t mean giving an arch or
    sarcastic statement of whatever position you don’t support.  I mean
    articulating a thoughtful, possibly compassionate case in favor of what you
    don’t agree with.  If you can’t, it’s not a really big deal, but if you
    can, it shows that you have really thought through your position and are taking
    mine (and me!) seriously. 

    7. Does the person simply get backed up, twitchy,
    uncomfortable, annoyed or basically creeped out, if you have a position he or
    she does not?  If he or she does, I don’t
    like it … I basically just don’t mind being around disagreement, at least as
    long as the previous six conditions are in place.   Personally, I think that is a personal
    strength — one of my two!  (My other
    strength is that I’m a good public speaker. 
    Except for those two strengths, I’m a jackass.)

     

    I have had friends and relatives whom I disagree with on
    issues.  I have had relationships with women I disagreed with on numerous issues,
    but only once can I remember having fundamental VALUES disagreements with a
    woman I went out with.  I think that the challenge is deciding which
    values are not negotiable, and having as small a list of those values as
    possible.  That also means not confusing fundamental values, which can be
    expressed in just a couple of words each, with positions, which can only be
    articulated in complete sentences.  

     

    Bruce writes, “the extreme views and values of some
    friends just made it hard to continue the friendship.”  I am guessing
    that it was the views (i.e., the positions)…I suspect that the values may
    well have been in harmony but that harmony could not be seen due to the
    difference in the views. It is the views that cloud what ground there is that
    is in fact common.

     

    Bruce also writes, “I could not be with a woman who
    thought the opposite of me. The consequences of that thinking … would be
    catastrophic for our country, our world, and more importantly to me, for the
    future for my boys. Of course I don’t mean on every single policy, but an
    overall belief system.”  This seems to be reasonable, but actually,
    it’s a problematic statement.  A belief
    system is NOT about thinking…that’s why it’s a BELIEF system.  A belief system is not solely reflected in
    policy positions; it is also reflected in daily action of a variety of kinds.  If the actions and the policy positions
    someone has are just impossible to be around or live with, a belief system — rather,
    a difference between yours and the other person’s — is not necessarily where
    the problem lies.  You may just hate to
    be around someone who frequently has other positions on this, that or the other.
    I think the trick is to — much as I said about values — decide what positions
    or issues are absolutely non-negotiable to uphold, and keep that list as small
    as possible.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      DW, did I tell you how much I adore you today! Let’s just not talk politics…lol…’cause I fail most of those tests most of the time!