Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tolerance is a two-way street

I want you to do something.  I want you to think about that friend you recently met for lunch, drinks or coffee – you laughed and laughed.  You made fun of your kids or your boss. You traded recipes. You are Facebook friends.  She has great decorating ideas for that weird corner in your living room and you helped her pick up that great chair she found on Craigslist.  You’ve talked about parenting, jobs, relationship woes, stress, periods, hot flashes, constipation and sex.  This is a good friend.

And then, that friend posts something on Facebook about politics or religion that is completely contrary to what you believe.  You’re puzzled – this is a person who you have always seen treat every person with respect and kindness, who has a diverse group of friends.  This is someone who has been in your home, gotten drunk with you, wiped your tears. How can this person believe this? How can they think this way?  Can you still be their friend?

We are living in what can be really divisive times.  People feel strongly about social issues, fiscal decisions and school curriculum.  Are we willing to cast aside friendships – strong and positive friendships – because we disagree on a few things? If so, what does that say about us? What message does that send to our children?

We teach our young children to share, to be respectful of others, to play with Suzy, Johnny, Sasha, River, Ravi and Bindi.  Well tell them to play nicely and not make fun of someone’s name, family or beliefs. We emphasize that it’s okay that our friends are different – it’s how we learn about different ways, different cultures, and different religions. And, at the end of the day, those differences – the color of their skin, the neighborhood they live in, their one mommy or two daddies doesn’t matter – they are nice kids, and fun to play with and you get along well. 

Why are we different as adults?

I look at my friends – and I have all kinds.  I have teacher friends, lawyer friends and a surprising number of doctor/nurse friends.  I have mom friends, dad friends, reporter friends and even one really cool judge friend.  My friends are creative, smart, hilarious, kind and witty. 

Some of my friends believe in one kind of God, some in another.  Some worship on Sunday – others on Saturday.  I’ve stood up for Brenda Starr in a Catholic wedding with a full mass (man, that was a lot of up and down in a loud taffeta dress) and danced the hora at Runners.  Some friends believe their home isn’t complete without a pet and others have never owned one (seriously, I don’t understand this at all but they are still my friends.) 

We have different tastes in movies and music and books – but through them I’ve seen, heard and read some great things I never would have picked out on my own.  I have vegetarian and vegan friends – gotten some great recipes.  I have friends that parent very differently than I do or those that are more my style. But we all love our kids.

My friends sit on both sides of the political aisle and for the most part can talk reasonably about why they feel that way.  Honestly, my friends believe many things (and seriously, based on the shit you guys share on Facebook – you believe almost anything. Are you really that gullible? Does anyone fact check????)

My point? My friends became my friends before I discovered some belief that does not align with mine or some weird interest that I don’t understand.   Should we stop being friends because they don’t vote the same way I do?  I’ve seen – more than once – someone on Facebook say, “This is really important to me and if you don’t believe the same way, unfriend me now.” 

Now let’s be clear – I’m not talking about those that spew hateful rhetoric at those who believe differently.  I’m not talking about criminal or legal issues (except for the whole guilty/not guilty on stuff like Casey Anthony – she is clearly guilty and anyone who disagrees is a douche…but can still be my friend.)  I’m talking about politics, faith-based decisions, football teams, bad calls from a referee, parenting philosophies, breast feeding and cloth vs disposable diapers.  These are the things I’ve seen cause people to absolutely lose their shit.

How can we expect anyone to respect our opinion – as different as it may be from theirs – if we don’t respect theirs?  How can we expect tolerance if we don’t practice tolerance (notice I said “practice” because sometimes this shit is hard!)  Our friends who do things differently offer us a great opportunity to learn more. Will I change my vote?  Will I leave my faith for theirs?  Highly unlikely but I will gain a better understanding of why they believe what they do and it’s likely, in the course of that conversation, I will hear and see glimmers of why we are friends in the first place.  In turn, they may gain a better understanding of my perspective.  More often than not, we can simply agree to disagree and continue laughing about something stupid our kids or our boss did.

Stretch is a good friend – I’ve spoken of her often (including here.)  I met her through a moms group that some of us were asked to leave (and others left so quickly there were skid marks) so we started our own covert snark fest.  We could not be more different.  She’s a tall willowy blond.  I am…well, not.  She is young, wildly creative with a hip husband, two awesome girls and a family hobby of racing things with engines at very high speeds. We have some different political philosophies but during a really great conversation in the very early stages of our friendship, she told me, “We both ultimately want similar things – we just go about getting there differently.”

So, as we head into a heated year of politics, hot topics, heated issues and endless opportunities to stomp our feet and declare our self-righteousness  – let’s take a deep breath, count to ten, recognize we are not likely to change the mind of those that feel strongly the other way nor are they going to change our mind.  Embrace what we do have in common and for the love of God people, fact check!

PS  - And, remember that friend I mentioned at the beginning of the post? Yeah, well, call that friend immediately and chat over a drink or three. If you can talk about poop, sex and gynecological issues then you can talk about your differences, move past them and continue a great friendship. Maybe that person will even become your Big Susan. 

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