Jason and I have known each other since we were toddlers. We grew up in the same strict, small town, fundamentalist church. We weren’t much more than acquaintances throughout our early years though, having attended different schools. Eventually, Jason transferred to my high school and we became close friends. After High School, we did our best to stay in touch but, shortly after graduation, Jason enlisted in the Marines, and I moved to New York and then Michigan to attend college. We eventually lost touch.
Now, Jason and I are both well into our 30s. We have families, bills, responsibilities, and every other fun and not-so-fun bits of adulthood. We have also reconnected a bit more over the past couple of years. But it wasn’t necessarily our memories of days gone by or any of the other aforementioned pieces of nostalgia that reignited our friendship. Oddly enough, it was politics. Better put, we reconnected through political disagreements.
Jason is Constitution-tattooed, small government lovin’ conservative who has more guns than I have teeth. I’m a flannel-wearing, tax-lovin’ liberal who wouldn’t know a 30-06 from a 7-11. Jason wants the government off his lawn and out of his healthcare. I not only want the government in my healthcare, paying my medical bills, but would love to have them on my lawn, building a library or handing me a check to pay off my college loans. If you were to break it down to percentages, I’d say on a very diplomatic day we might agree on 5% of the various political and social issues of our time.
I recently asked Jason to give an elevator speech summarizing his political beliefs. He offered the following: “For me the Constitution is the be all and end all. If you don’t have respect for the Constitution I really don’t care much about whatever else you have to say. I don’t care if you are Republican, Democrat, black, white, gay, straight, or Martian if you follow the Constitution as it was written and you will have my vote every time.”
These were the sort of thoughts and posts peppering his Facebook wall. When we first re-connected, I was nervous about how our political differences would influence whatever friendship or lack thereof might develop. We had a few passive-aggressive arguments, he had several postings I rolled my eyes at, and I guarantee I had plenty that elicited a similar reaction from him. There was a point when I seriously considered just letting the past be the past and not really pursue much. Truth be told, many of my attempts to befriend folks with political views drastically different than my own haven’t ended well. Then one day, Jason sent me a brief message. “Believe it or not, I enjoy our civil disagreements,” he said. What followed was a reconnection, full of disagreements, conflicts, and the occasional agreements for which I’m very grateful. Though most of it has been on Facebook, we’ve already talked about getting together in person in the future, even though we live states apart.
I’m not sure what has helped us to be cordial. Perhaps it’s because we’ve known each other a long time; or that the medium of social media forces us to think through our conversations a bit more. I think we’ve both enjoyed mixing things up a bit. I’ve experienced our country’s political divide via the fact that most of my friends have very similar political and social ideas as I do. Jason too has told me his social circles tend towards the right. I guess sometimes the very best thing we can do is step outside of what is familiar to us.
The odd nature of this election season lent a bit more friendliness and civility to our disagreements. Neither Jason nor myself are terribly thrilled with the two presidential candidates of our respective political parties. Jason was an avid supporter of Ted Cruz and is still disappointed he wasn’t the eventual candidate. Personally, I was an equally avid supporter of Bernie Sanders. While I never understood the appeal of Ted, I could understand why he appealed to Jason because we’ve spoken extensively about our political convictions and our understandings of what we think a healthy society looks like. I have a hunch that Jason, while shocked anyone would want a crazy-haired socialist leading the country, still could understand the thought process leading so many people like myself to “Feel the Bern.” This is why in-depth, respectful discussion on important matters are likely much more healthy than knee-jerk political posts and rants (both of which I am guilty). Such healthy discussions open a space wherein two differing minds can better attempt understand each other.
In these discussions, we found we actually had similarities, whether we cared to admit this or not. There’s a flag-waving, no-hold-barred patriotism inherent in conservatism that, while obnoxious to some, has always appealed to me. On the other end of the spectrum, Jason would make the occasional, off-the-cuff statements that were uncharacteristically progressive. In a recent email Jason sent me, amidst talk about the Constitution and how much paying taxes stinks, he said, “I want my government to be Conservative and the people Liberal…I am socially liberal and governmentally conservative. I don’t care what private citizens do. I don’t care who you sleep with, I don’t care what flavor of gender you decide you are today, I don’t care if you have health insurance or not, I don’t care what kind of car you drive, or what God you worship.” Though I can’t imagine Al Franken’s would hire Jason to be his PR person anytime soon, there is a socially progressive strain of thought throughout these words that differs from anything you heard at the 2016 Republican National Convention. If anything, I believe our willingness to talk about important matters in depth shows that, for all our differences (and they are vast) there are some interesting intersections that, properly directed, have the hum of authentic bipartisanship.
All in all, I’m glad we’ve reconnected not just as friends, but also as political discussion partners. It certainly has made voting season more bearable. And while I make no claims as to how to heal our great nation’s divide, I have learned from this tale that the slightest inkling of civility dropped into our most heated disagreements can bring surprisingly peaceful possibilities.