This Is NOT an Election Article!

dsc_0566“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen

Hello friend,

Imagine a group of college-age friends who grew up together. They are all figuring out what their path in life is. Nearly all of them, of course, are going the conventional routes: business, teaching, medicine, technology, trades, and the like. They want to be respectable, earning members of the workforce until they retire. Generally speaking, you would say they are a group of very stable people.

There are two outliers in their group, though. One friend has decided that she wants to follow her passion for the arts and become a painter. She’s not exactly sure how she will make it work financially, but she is a dreamer and has faith it will work out. The other friend has decided he is going to become an estate lawyer and make a fortune scamming old people out of their money. His goal is to make money, and he doesn’t care about the human cost.

How, then, does their stable group of friends react to these two who are straying from the conventional path?

As for the artist/dreamer, they are concerned for her but don’t dislike or distrust her for her decision. They dismiss her, in a way, as being too whimsical, not sensible enough, foolish for choosing the unstable path. They warn her about the starving artist lifestyle she is choosing, reminding her that she will be without health insurance or a 401K plan. The stable crew feels a little bad for their artist friend, even, as she “just doesn’t get it” and “lives in a fantasyland.” Her heart is in the right place, though, so they don’t dislike her. But they also don’t take her seriously and are relieved there aren’t lots more like her. She is a bit dangerous to their stability. Lovable, but dangerous.

The scamming lawyer, on the other hand, is now viewed by the friends as dangerous but unlovable. It is clear that his heart is not in the right place. A moral failing has entered the picture, and their sensibilities are offended by that. They are disappointed. They realize they can no longer trust him the way they thought they could. A wall has gone up in their relationship, one that is probably too steep to climb in order to build that relationship back to whole again.

The artist’s flaw, according to the group, is that she feels too much, she lets her heart guide her. The lawyer’s flaw is that he is heartless, callous. The artist can be forgiven for veering off the path of the rest of the group, but the lawyer cannot.

You are probably wondering why in the world I am having you think about these people. Well, lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about the individual people in my life, how I interact with each, and whether they seem more like someone who I want closer to me or someone who I need to distance myself from. I am oversensitive to just about everything, but especially to the prospect of spending time with people I think poorly of. I am repulsed by that and have left jobs and relationships because of it.

With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we have this magical way of reconnecting and staying in touch with so many more people than ever before. People from your past—high school and college friends, former colleagues—and even people whom you have never met in person. You can actually learn a lot about some of them. Sometimes more than you want to.

As you well know, it is political season. And while many of the people I know–whether intimately, in person, or online–tend to reveal little to nothing about their political views, there are certainly others who really put themselves out there for their candidate or cause. They reveal their positions on some topics that truly matter to me. That’s where it can get uncomfortable.

As I have watched other people’s interactions and tried to understand my own reactions to people on the other end of the political spectrum from me—I am quite liberal on just about all of the big topics—I see patterns emerging. So, I am developing my own pet theory on how a relationship between a liberal person and a conservative person plays out when their views are made known to the other. (Keep in mind that I am well aware that the people of the world hold a zillion varieties of viewpoints, and that the liberal and conservative in my theory are, by necessity, caricatured people that are to the far left and far right, respectively.) Check this out and be ready to help me tinker with my theory by sharing your personal pattern of reactions.

Remember the artist/dreamer of the friend group? Well, in my developing theory, the way the group viewed the artist is the way my conservative character views my liberal character. He (the conservative) sees her (the liberal’s) flaw as her “bleeding heart,” always thinking the government should help everyone and right wrongs. In his eyes, she is leading with her heart, which is foolish and impractical, because of course we can’t foot the bill for other people’s problems. Her insistence that we can is more annoying than anything. But at least her heart is in the right place, so he can’t despise her for that. He tolerates her.

To the liberal, on the other hand, the conservative is looked upon the way our friend group reacted to the scamming lawyer. She sees him as having abandoned his heart in favor of his pocketbook. His is a callous perspective, ignoring the plight of others and even basic human rights (I have been using universal health coverage in my ponderings, but we could use things like capital punishment, women’s health issues, LGBT rights, or the Syrian refugee crisis, too). He has taken moral issues and turned them instead into economic ones, ignoring hearts and souls in favor of financial calculations. This is incredibly disappointing—even hurtful—to the liberal. Her feelings are hurt by the seeming callousness of the conservative’s positions. Her sensibilities are offended. A trust has been broken. There is a “How could you?” in her reaction, as in, “How could you devalue human life this way?” The liberal does not want to believe someone’s heart could be so cold. It is a devastating realization. She is effectively done with him.

So, at the end of it, it looks as though the conservative would be more tolerant of the liberal than the liberal is of the conservative. The conservative sees the liberal as a failure of reason and practicality, whereas the liberal sees the conservative as a failure of character and conscience. Her failure is acceptable; his is not. He can continue with her in his life, just as the stable group of friends could keep the artist. The liberal, however, no longer feels any interest in fraternizing with the conservative, seeing him as the friend group sees the scamming lawyer: morally bankrupt. With the trust broken, for her, the relationship is as good as over.

So, that’s the theory at this point. Like I said, the positions are probably a bit extreme for most people. But I have to admit, the liberal side is mostly a projection of stuff coming up from my own heart in these situations. I recognized the feelings I was having in response to all of these political posts as well as my conversations with different people, and the theory emerged from me trying, mostly through my daily journal entries, to make sense of the feelings. I wanted some clarity, which is what journaling has always brought me.

This process has helped me to better understand my internal workings, as well as my evolving relationships with family members, friends, and online connections. I have to admit it is a bit disturbing to see the final product being a desire to end, or at least pull back from, a number of relationships that I had once enjoyed and valued, even if on a more superficial level. But I can’t fake it, either. As I mentioned early on, it is a weakness of mine that I am oversensitive. Another one is that I am stubborn. That combination makes me tough to hang with. If you break my trust, I don’t easily let it go. (And yes, I recognize the irony in the fact that despite seeing my political positions as more enlightened and compassionate than the other side, I am the one who ends up being more intolerant in the actual relationship. I guess personal boundaries come with a cost.)

I suppose I hope for other people’s sake that they can make peace with people who hold vastly different views more easily than I can, that they can either forgive or compartmentalize their politics. Maybe it is like my theory—the conservatives can do it better than the liberals can—or maybe it is only me. In any case, the theory-making helped me to know myself better. Even if the results have shaken me a bit, I am glad I took the dive.

How about you? How would you categorize your reactions to people whose views are starkly opposed to yours? It is probably helpful to start by locating yourself along the political spectrum. Are you fairly far in one direction overall, or pretty moderate? Is there one particular issue that you hold an extra-strong opinion about? Can disagreement on that issue trigger an emotional response from you? If you are on the conservative side of the spectrum, does my proposed theory resonate with you at all, i.e. do you find yourself being dismissive of liberals because their “bleeding hearts” make their proposals too impractical and expensive for your tastes, even if you tolerate them because they mean well? If that is not how you experience it, what is your reaction to someone you know who proposes a liberal idea? Do you find that the liberal ideas fail your test morally, or is it more logically or practically? If you are more left-leaning, does my theory resonate with you? Have you had the experience, in talking with conservatives about these issues, of being so dismayed—even hurt—by the callousness and lack of compassion in their positions to the point that you no longer wish to socialize with them? Have I gone too far in that side of the theory? Is your experience more like I described for the other side: it is frustrating that the conservative disagrees with you, but that has no bearing on how you rate their character and how much time you want to spend with them? If you are someone who is kind of in the middle on the issues—conservative on some, liberal on others—do you find yourself still leaning toward one side in terms of which friends you like or respect more, or is it also a pretty even mix? Is there something more morally upstanding about one side or the other? If you had to choose between spending your time with someone who is hopelessly impractical or someone who is immoral, who would you choose? Do you mostly try to avoid political discussions with people in your social groups so you aren’t forced to make these kinds of character evaluations and relationship changes? I think most of us do that at least some of the time, because let’s face it, it’s risky to wade into these waters. Is that an unhealthy denial, or is that simply a wise way to make life bearable in your little corner of the world? I am dying to know how you navigate this stuff! So please, leave me a reply and let me know: How do you handle your relationships with people who differ from you on important political issues? 

Claim your amazing self,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you examining your relationships and how your political opinions shape your friend group and your tolerance for others, I hope you will share it. If you want these letters in your Inbox as soon as they are published, I invite you to sign up for the email.  Peace and Love, my friend.

2 thoughts on “This Is NOT an Election Article!

  1. Anonymous :)

    Thank you, William. You have left me with so many thoughts on varying elements of this post, but I find a thread of consistency in every thought I am having after reading this article.
    When we are young, we play with everyone. We live next to kids, so we play together. We go to school, so we hang out together because we are in the same class, we are in the same club, or we are both in the same sport. Likes, experiences, even to some degree, values are only evolved to the experiences we have had up to that point. In your example, you mention the group is college friends. The friends start to have separation or individuality due to their stance on various topics or choices of career. I believe some of those stances and values are just starting to form, because people are starting to experience life, and the freedom to have their interpretation on it, for the first time, and wonder “how do I decide what to do?” Some take the path of least resistance and rely back on “what would my parents do” and that is how they go. And is that wrong? No. Our parents, after all, guided us through a life and spent countless hours teaching us ways to navigate this world….as best they could and…based on their experiences. At the same time, life does not stop, and the young adults are faced with new instances to take and new decisions to be made every day. You have to keep choosing. You are told, your options are A or B…now chose. (The majority of the time they are the only options offered). And you do. Eventually, your choices become so personal because each choice was a personal accomplishment. A choice you made without your parents. A choice that you feel defines you. Who knows the reason you made the choice, maybe you do not even remember, but you did and somehow that shifted you into the world you are in now. You are proud because you have made these choices. And now what about those friends, the family, the others in your life. You start to see either similarity or variance in their values. Maybe those people who you spent so many incredible years with, you feel are NOT who you thought they were. Maybe you feel even betrayed. Now you are older, and you and those friends all have voices that are starting to be heard. The voice heard seems so have such deep feeling attached to it. And they do, because all those values and difficult choices are ones each of you made. You are now having to make a concrete stance for and you feel strong in your position. You feel strong about your opinion because it was your struggle, your feelings, your decided path that lead you to the overall feelings inside of you. And now, here we are, a lifetime with a friend or group of friends who we have known forever. Maybe, if we truly look, we have found that there were occasions we didn’t see eye to eye on in the past, but for some reason we ignored it and still held them close. But now, as the passion inside people is so easily heard, in ways it has never before, now we truly get to experience the inside thoughts of a friend. Someone you maybe spent only hours with a day, you are now seeing and hearing their passions. (Think about how little we know about people until we live with them or, start to hear their daily THOUGHTS on social media). The passion and opinion based on teaching, based on experiences, based on struggles, and based on choice. It all plays in to who they are today. And for the first time, the person who we used to know and hold so dear has evolved into someone who feels like a complete stranger. And sometimes so strange and abstract they are to you that it stops you in your tracks. Almost a feeling of betrayal for who they “led you to believe” they were. But the reality that lies here is that they evolved on their chosen path. And so have you. And part of the continuing evolution and choice is to let that person go. To hear their opinion and move on. But I feel at this point, and I have been there, that in order for me to grow, I want to confront my issue(s) or unease with the person who I once knew, so that I can grow from it. I want to spend a moment to understand. Not endless hours and days spent digging trying to find an answer, and not great hopes or efforts trying to completely change them, but a moment. Why are they so passionate about this? Maybe, for example, they struggled financially for their entire life having no food on the table. Maybe financially they are feeding their family and their extended family. Maybe that MD title holds so much “power” for them because they are now the financial provider. And since the majority of MDs are conservative, maybe they decided they are passionate to be a conservative because keeps them financial able to feed their family and is the force of determination to not be in the financial situation of their early years before. Maybe they are passionate about the money aspect because they can and must provide, even if, perhaps they do not believe in all elements of the conservative bill, they WILL still strongly support it. I feel a bit more compassion and sometimes understanding (not always agreement) when I have heard some reasons that really lie in peoples beliefs and choices. Their position may be different from mine, because I did not know when we were 10 or 12 or 18 of their situation, but their experiences were different than mine or yours. We are now older, and we are now different. And to walk “away” from people whose beliefs we no longer understand, is our peaceful separation to the path we feel is taking us to our growth. But I do know, that person who I left “behind” (as I think we all feel or try to put our path is the one to a better world), played a role in forming my opinions and making me decide what was right…for me…at that point. Our journey continues forward. We are in the presence with others, but we are the solo traveler.

    Reply
    1. William Rutten Post author

      Thank you, Anonymous, for all of those wonderful thoughts! It is, indeed, a journey of discovery, this life of ours. It is the work of a lifetime to discover who we are and what we believe, what we stand for. And though the searching and forming never end, we eventually come to certain understandings about the world, certain principles that resonate with us more than others. The more we take ownership of these foundation pieces to our individual castles, the more we see how distinct our castle is from the others around us. Thankfully, they move with us, these castles, and we can choose the block we want to reside in as we go, no matter how temporarily. We choose our tribes, consciously if we are lucky. And sometimes, when we are finally able to see an old mate’s foundation pieces, we need to bless them and love them from afar. I am just beginning to learn to be okay with that. I certainly appreciate your sentiment of trying to understand each person more clearly, even if it is just to set them free with a greater degree of peace in our own hearts. It is an amazing journey, truly. It never fails to astound me. I am grateful for the lot of it, including your wonderful ponderings. I look forward to hearing from you again. All my best, William

      Reply

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