Do Not Throw Away Your Friends

*deep breath*

Let’s all slow down and sink into this moment, shall we?  I mean really get settled. Be here only, right now.   *deep*   *breath*

How are you feeling, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally?  I think I will live more peacefully if I ask myself this more often, and take the time to answer and reflect, before I speak or act.

I had finally walked out of some heavy darkness after a truly regenerative vacation.  I started two and finished three books after Christmas.  I wrote all of our family New Year greetings in one sitting, got a better handle on stress eating, and made inroads on social media moderation.  I even worked out four days in a row—2021 was off to an awesome start!

And then this week happened.  I followed peripherally through the workday as our Capitol was besieged by rioters seeking to overthrow the government, then proceeded to doom scroll and [out]rage post into the wee hours of night.  I felt agitated, like most, and also weirdly vindicated.  Thinking back to the dread and despair I experienced this time four years ago, and my conservative friends telling me I was overreacting, I thought, “See?  I was right to worry.” 

“I was right.”  Such a delicious and potentially toxic sentiment.  How does it make anything better?

I saw so many people on January 6th telling their Facebook friends to unfriend if they still support 45.  Another classmate, a Trump supporter, announced she was deactivating her account due to the hostility and blanket dismissals of her as a person.  “You’re dead to me,” my liberal friends announced.  How is a person supposed to respond to that in any kind of productive way?  The title of this post came to me that evening, as I left the office.

In 2016 I friended a high school classmate for the express purpose of conducting civil political discourse on social media.  At that time I did not quite understand what an exercise in futility this can be (mostly is).  I’m proud to say that our exchanges have always, indeed, exemplified civility.  Over the years we also bonded over hiking, shared nerdhood, and not much else.  He asked me occasionally for general medical information and challenged me with math problems he presented to his high school students (I solved them with authority).  But the political interactions became tiresome as the current administration continued.  Last year I requested to cease our political conversations; he graciously agreed.  It was just too unsatisfying, and I felt relieved to just be friendly.  I look forward to when we can meet in person to engage, because I’m so much better at that now.

In face to face political conversations, I have learned to define and hew to clear and simple objectives in any interaction, and it’s almost never to persuade anyone of my rightness.  Most of the time it can only be to understand the other person’s perspective; I’m almost always the one asking more questions and listening more.  I’ve had to accept that and practice patience.  I’ve also had to muzzle my inner rage monster whenever I hear sweeping, oversimplified generalizations like “Democrats’ policies will make everything worse for America,” or “Democrats have no soul.”  I’m not a Democrat, but right now that is the party that more often advances causes and policies that I support.  Conservative and progressive ideals are never all good or all bad.  Rather, they are complex and intricate polarities to be managed in the infinite game of democracy.  Adherents to each side are not mutually demonic and subhuman, monolithic enemies to be vanquished.  They are our neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends.  Nothing will get better if we go around cutting ties left and right (hey! Pun!), especially not in the heat of a moment when the country most needs our collective composure, despite our most agitated emotions.  This is why we must breathe deeply and settle in to our best selves, before we open our mouths or type another word online.

My friend has renounced Trump, saying it took a fair amount of rationalization to vote for him this time, which he regrets.  Welcome to humanity, sir, where we all rationalize most of our decisions, more than we know and much more than we’d like to admit.  He has also declared steadfast commitment to his conservative principles, which I wholeheartedly support.  I’m so hopeful that we may continue to practice our discourse skills on and with each other.  I still may not engage on Facebook, and he has yet to accept a Zoom invitation, but I feel progress coming on (as Progressives often do).