I had the opportunity to spend some time with a family friend I haven’t seen in a while recently. He and I have had a rather interesting relationship – well rocky relationship – over the past 10 years or so. Once upon a time I think we felt the joy of innocence and agreement on most subjects, but over time things changed and we’ve often found ourselves at odds with each other. Words have been exchanged behind backs, frustrations have been expressed to friends (an action I always condone, even when I’m the one on the dispensing end of the frustration!), and uncomfortable conversation have often been the best case scenario.
I think I’m proud to say that we both are pretty accommodating, understanding people. Despite our differences, I think we both value harmony and closeness. In a way, I think this has made things hard because we’re both trying to hold to our true selves while simultaneously fighting that part of us that wants to build walls between those we don’t understand. So all in all, I think we’ve dealt with it as well as can be expected.
But the time we were able to spend together recently with other friends was, I believe, a bit eye-opening for me. It seemed that for just a little while, we were able to put our individual opinions aside, find some common ground and some subjects we are both passionate about, and engage in an enjoyable and relationship-building conversation. And something very interesting happened; something I’ve seen happen with me and others around me when we’re faced with someone we love who’s opinions drive us mad: we softened a bit. I found myself taking a sort of “let bygones be bygones” attitude and making jokes about some of the things I’m perhaps overzealous about, and he even made a few comments in support of my efforts to improve the world (even if he perhaps doesn’t see the value). And it made me realize something that is SO very important for every person everywhere.
Always always always maintain relationships with those who oppose your views.
Now I’m going to totally butcher this story, but I heard once about a person – a US President, I believe (I want to say Abraham Lincoln?) – who purposely appointed members of his presidency who opposed his personal views. He did this as a matter of integrity to be sure that his decisions and ideas would be challenged and that he would always be required to give deep consideration to the opposing viewpoint.
We SO need this today.
I worry sometimes about the way we need to gather together at our conferences, our churches, and our political parties to cling tightly to the people who agree with us and support us – almost like a strange parody of our ancient ancestors gathering in groups to survive by battling other groups for resources. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot of value in finding like-minded people for giving us confidence, warmth, and a sense that we are not alone. Particularly for minorities, these connections can be life-saving. But like anything, moderation is always best, and I think it’s far too easy to reduce our group of influence to those who share the same x, y, and z opinion, political party, religion, or lifestyle. And with the socially expanded world we live in today, it can be quite easy to get comfortable and set up camp for the rest of our lives.
But nothing helps us grow more in maturity, spirituality, and intellect than embracing people who walk on the other side of the tracks. We need people who make us uncomfortable, who make us question ourselves every now and then, who make us think “Why on God’s green earth would any human being ever believe that?!?!”. It not only forces us to analyze our own thought patterns and methods of decision-making, it also helps us build empathy and understanding. And the ability to NOT TAKE OURSELVES TO SERIOUSLY!!!
So I’m grateful for my friend. For the things we share in common as equally as the things we don’t. We may never walk similar paths ever again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make our paths parallel and maybe take a jab at each other’s crazy beliefs every now and then.
Besides, it makes for incredibly entertaining and intellectually stimulating conversation (and heaven knows we need that in the era of Reality TV!!).
And if any of you know who I’m talking about that Abraham Lincoln story (if it’s even him), will you please give me the reference because it’s DRIVING ME MAD.