Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Politics and Friendships

This election cycle was a particularly vicious one, with billions of dollars spent on campaign ads and a lot of blatant lies. I don't normally hate a candidate to the point of breaking into hives, but I sure came close this time. Plus, I did have a more personal stake in the outcome this time, because of the healthcare issue.

So, naturally, while normally I am able to keep politics out of my friendships, and am long-time friends with people whose political views differ radically from mine, this time it definitely strained some of my relationships, to the point where I had to actively work through my inability to talk to a particular person.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while it seems silly to base my friendships on political alignments, one's political views reflect their core beliefs and morals.

For example, if one is a socially minded, community-oriented person, it would make sense for them to align with a candidate who supports social programs. Conversely, if one is very ambitious, it make sense for them to align with a candidate who will provide them with best laws and policies to get to the top.
I'm trying not to make judgements here, but it's inevitable that I have a bias.

Speaking of bias, there's the rub: this election cycle I saw a lot of latent biases in people who really should be more self-aware. This is what I am talking about: if someone who had a problem with Obama's birth certificate and did not believe there was enough proof provided, but then was ok with Romney not showing his tax returns, there's a bias, because there's a clear conflict between an earlier displayed core value (accountability and providing proof) and current displayed value (trust that the candidate is telling the truth).
When a fiscal conservative tells me that it's fine that Romney wanted to give the military more than they were even asking for, motivating that our navy needs to get built up (my dad works for US Navy, and he says that no, we don't, because we don't even know what to do with all the ships we've already got) - there is a bias.
When someone tells me that they want the government out of our lives as much as possible, and then supports abortion bans and anti-gay marriage laws, then, yes, there is a very obvious bias there. One can be pro-life and be married to a person of an opposite gender, and their own values should not suffer just because their niece had to get an abortion when she got pregnant after a condom broke or if the couple next door to them happens both to be women.
And yes, it's even possible to be Christian and "live and let live" and "give Caesar's to Caesar and God's to God". I have several friends who live that way.

Obviously, you can tell that I was seeing a lot of bias in Republicans. What about Democrats? There was a bit of Obama worship, which makes me wince, true, but exaggerating your candidate's virtues is not the same as denying your core values in my book, so it did not really strike me as wrong. My one pet peeve was the couple of people who said they'd move to a different country if Romney won. Without even getting into the difficulty of actually moving permanently to a different country, let's look at the conflict between making that statement and believing oneself to be a patriot. Patriots don't leave, they stay, buckle down and get to work.


Inadvertently, the politics pushed one of my friendships to the breaking point. I've been friends with this person since college, and we've had some good times, obviously, but ever since I moved to PA, the friendship felt pretty one-sided. She's a career girl, and I'm glad that it's working out rather well for her, but there are always sacrifices, and our friendship seemed to be one of them.
While several of my New Yorker friends came to PA to visit me, she's always had reasons why she could not. I tried to be understanding and made a lot of effort to come up and see her. Given my life and all the people in it that depended on me, it wasn't as often as I wished, and sometimes an opportunity for a visit came up unexpectedly, and that did not work for my friend, because her schedule needed a lot more notice than I was able to give her. 
It was still ok for me for years, but when D2 was born, I stopped traveling. By that point, I decided that I'll leave the pace of our friendship to her, since I did not want to be frustrated by sending a long email and getting a telegram version back, nor did I want to be put in the position of always being the one suggesting the day when I could come up only to hear that it was too close and she couldn't make it without offering a different day that worked for her.
Whatever, right? But then she made a comment on my FB post about politics, asking how I felt about my friends who were not going to vote. I was surprised, but said that I respected that decision, since I trusted that it was based on a lot of research and thinking. But the more I talked to her, the more I got the impression that she just did not care about anything that did not affect her personally. Healthcare? She is pretty healthy. If some of her friends would get screwed, oh, well. Social issues? She's well off enough to where she can provide for herself. Others? Tough noogies. Choice? She lives in New York that will always (the hope goes) have access to abortion and screw women in North Dakota. Fair pay? Did I mention she's a career girl in a techy field? She's fine.
And that was not ok with me. The apparent selfishness of her choices clicked with all the times she did not appear to make any effort to stay in touch with me, and threw the whole friendship into a different perspective. Yes, we both are busy. And while she does not own a car, all the times I made the trip up there, I took a train, myself, anyway. There are ways to make things work, if that is what your priority is.
Her responses?
"Neither one of us made it to see each other." Fabulous. So, to her, my visits either did not mean much or she chose to forget them so as not to feel bad about not reciprocating.
"You seem like you've made your decision." Not until I read her response, because a real friend would hopefully say something more along the lines of "Shit, I had no idea you felt that way. I guess there was a bit of unfairness going on. How can I make it up?"
But so it goes.

However, because life is awesome like that, right around the same time I finally stopped being stupid and reconnected with an old college friend who I haven't spoken to since he graduated, two years after I did. He's an extremely talented and adorable dude, and after I got back in touch with him, I realized how much I missed his irreverent silly presence in my life. I told him so, and his response was "well, whose fault was it?" I owned that indeed it was mine for keeping away from him, and explained that it was because I was going through some bad stuff in my life and did not want to drag him down with me (which is my real, if misguided, reason). He said, "Bad stuff? Everyone has bad stuff, that's why you have friends to keep you up."
Wow, what a concept! Because of friends like the one I spoke of earlier, I felt extremely guilty every time I needed to share my problems, and it was not until my move to PA and meeting my fabulous co-workers that I changed that line of thinking. And now I get another confirmation about what real friends are!

So, thank you, life, for giving me another lesson, for helping me shed guilt and ballast of dead friendships, and for bringing more shiny people into my world!

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