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Can a Real Conservative and a Real Liberal Be Real Friends?

PJ Advice columnist Belladonna Rogers tells how the lion can lie down with the lamb -- at least sometimes.

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Belladonna Rogers

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December 27, 2011 - 12:00 am

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

For decades, I’ve made the same New Year’s resolutions. They’re the typical “lose weight,” “get a flatter stomach,” and “be a better person,” but there’s one I particularly want to achieve next year: to be more accepting of the failings of others.

I’m very judgmental, and I’d like to learn how to be more understanding. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever tolerate total jerks, but I find myself annoyed with average-to-good people with human flaws, especially if they’re leftists. I don’t want to feel like a hypocrite liking a liberal whose views I believe are mistaken. I’m able to express my political views affably, but don’t want to compromise my core values. That’s my dilemma.

Flummoxed in Framingham, Massachusetts

Dear Flummoxed,

You’ve already taken the first step, which is to acknowledge that you want to become less judgmental. And you add, especially of liberals, suggesting that if you encountered the same flaws in conservatives you’d either give them a pass or be less annoyed.

This, in turn, suggests you’re not happy with having double standards. It sounds as if by being liberals they’ve already used up whatever tolerance you have.  They must be better, less flawed than if they were conservatives because they’ve already tried your patience by not agreeing that a smaller government is a better government and that the more the government “helps” citizens, the more it weakens them.

To become a less judgmental person who sees through political differences to the person within, the next step is not to think that politics is the be-all and end-all when you’re with other people.  If you make a serious effort to do that — as dubious a suggestion as that may appear — you’ll be able to circulate among non-conservatives as well as to deepen and broaden your current friendships with fellow conservatives.

You ask what can make possible the suspension of your most judgmental tendencies.

Several things can, either singly or in combination:

(1) Finding shared non-political values even in people with opposing political views: One day six years ago I was in the check-out line at Target, behind a young mother with a challengingly rambunctious two-year-old.  She was so patient, understanding and gentle with her daughter that I complimented her (yes, a total stranger) on her wonderful manner with her child.  She has since become one of my closest friends, despite our realization, early on, that our politics were 180 degrees apart.  But our values in terms of mothering and being a loyal friend, and how to treat other people are identical.

(2) Finding biographical similarities, be it a narcissistic parent, a childhood illness, or having studied and loved the same authors while students at schools thousands of miles apart;

(3) Finding a spiritual bond, be it within an organized religion or a similar outlook toward life, death and everything in between;

(4) Finding something you deeply admire in another person’s life or manner of dealing with a challenge; for example, someone who’s able to maintain equanimity, good humor and dignity despite having been dealt a cruel hand, such as a terrible disease or an agonizing injury — physical or psychological;

(5) Sharing a sense of humor and/or a sense of the absurd with another person who appreciates your humor and whose wit you enjoy as well;

(6) Discovering a common enthusiasm for a singer, a car, a Psalm, an actor, writer, a web site, director, play, movie, sports team or activity.  A passion for shared interests can make up for a lack of seeing eye-to-eye politically.

With a great majority of the 6.982 billion people now alive, you have something in common that could form the basis of a genuine attachment, anything from a casual acquaintance to a life-changing friendship.

If you’re part of a small minority of conservatives, surrounded by a vast majority of vocal, supercilious (in your case, Massachusetts) leftists, it’s understandable that you’d take comfort in the companionship of like-minded thinkers and even consider them a safe haven in a hostile world.

However, by doing this, you’re also cutting yourself off from the possibility of getting to know, respect and even love people whose politics are completely unlike your own.

It’s important to move out of our comfort zones – not to the point of bungee jumping or diving out of small aircraft with a parachute – to get to know people who are different, at least on the surface.

And as strongly as we all feel that our political beliefs are central to who we are, there are many other components within us that are also major elements of our identities.

If you allow into your life those who are different politically, their kindness, humor and generosity will astonish you.  Not every single person unlike you will do this, but many will.

Although I understand your fear that overlooking a leftist’s other flaws will make you feel like a hypocrite, as long as you don’t make politics the center of your friendship, and as long as the leftist understands that your political position is different, there’s no cause for fearing to appear deceitful to yourself or to anyone else.

You’ll have a fuller life if you don’t close yourself off from contact with people who didn’t grow up the way you did, or in the town or region you did, or practicing the religion your family did.

Finding common ground and forging bonds with others on levels far more important than political views is possible.  And yes, Virginia, there are more important levels, or at least other levels than politics.

The greater the effort you make to discover those commonalities, the richer and deeper your experience of life will be.

Another way to become less judgmental is to accept – as difficult as this may be to imagine — that you’re not perfect, either, and that you’ve made thousands of mistakes in your life.  Recognizing and remembering that will make you more understanding when you encounter other imperfect people.

The current vicissitudes in the popularity levels of the Republican presidential candidates mirror the conundrum you face every New Year’s Eve: to everyone’s amazement, none of them is perfect.   Who knew?

The world’s greatest humanitarians and spiritual leaders have all been imperfect:  we admire them despite their feet of clay.

If you can focus more on people’s admirable traits and less on their flaws, even their rudeness — as annoying and unconscionable as these traits can be — I promise you that by next New Year’s Eve you’ll have more people in your life whom you love, admire and respect than you do now because you will have become a less judgmental person, without sacrificing who and what you are.

A happy and healthy new year – with a jubilant result on November 6th — to you and to all PJ Media readers.

– Belladonna Rogers

Do you have questions?  Belladonna Rogers has answers.  Send your questions or comments about politics, personal or cultural matters, or anything else that’s on your mind, and Belladonna will answer as many as possible.  The names, geographic locations and email addresses of all advice-seekers will be kept confidential. Names and places and other personal information will be changed to protect the identity of the questioner.  Send your questions or comments to: advice@pjmedia.com

 

 

Belladonna Rogers is a close observer of international and domestic affairs.
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