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.