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

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.