I have a good friend whom I have known a long time. We both come from Oklahoma and have a lot in common. Mostly we just like and respect each other. His name is Roger, and he is one of the most successful people I’ve known, not only professionally but in his personal life as well.
Understanding and respect can go a long way toward developing a bridge to peace.
Roger not only has a good brain, but he also has a good heart and spends many hours each week volunteering as an elder in his church. He retired a few years ago from serving his country in the military for 41 years, receiving the highest officer rank the Air Force gives.
He told me a few months ago he holds me in high esteem, and I am honored but also deeply humbled by that, becasue I’ve made some bonehead mistakes in life.
I can’t imagine trusting any man more than Roger, and yet he and I are different in a way that keeps too many Americans from being friends at all.
Roger is a conservative, and I am a liberal.
Those are broad political definitions, however, and only start to define us as people. Neither of us is either hard right nor hard left, although the intensity of our beliefs vary on certain issues. Not every issue is created equal to us. I think both of us see ourselves overall as political moderates with a lean in different directions.
I met another guy the other day over the phone. He’s also a Sooner, his name is John, and I wanted to interview him for a book I am writing now. We got through the initial pleasantries well, and he agreed to meet me in person. He seemed like a nice buy so I also sent him a friend request on Facebook.
Fifteen minutes later, John messaged me back. He had changed his mind about me.
“Jim,” he wrote, “I just saw your FB page, and I can’t be friends with someone who supports the clown in our White House right now.”
This despite the fact our dads knew each other and I told him i wanted to mention his family as making a big contribution to the people of our hometown.
Even so, he rejected my friend request, blocked me, and wrote off the interivew request, too.
In thinking about these two different cases — Roger and John — I realize they say a lot about the state of our nation today and about some of those divisions among people can be bridged. Or not.
What makes people like Roger and me work is that we realize neither of us is defined totally by our political, social, or religious beliefs. Those beliefs form parts of us, but not the entirety. As Roger told me a few months ago, “I know your heart, Jim.” I told him I know his, too, and it’s a fine one.
To know someone’s heart is to know they care for the greater good, and to try to understand others’ views. this person holds many different beliefs and values. Some of those we may agree with or not, but we know this is a good person who has valid reasons for holding those beliefs. We trust that he or she sees those beliefs as a way forward to reaching a goal that both of us would agree is valuable.
For example, take gun ownership. One may argue that tighter access to guns will limit crimes using guns. But another would argue that we are safer having a gun in our home because it can give us protection from a home invader. In this argument, safety and a sense of peace are the goals; one believes they’re reachable by having a gun; one believes the opposite.
Also, for Roger and me, it also means we know we are each trying every day to be the best people we can be … the best versions of ourselves. We respect each other for that instead of pigeonholing them or discounting them entirely because they vote Republican, Independent, or Democrat.
Roger and I have known each other a long time and that helps. But, back at the start, if we had decided we couldn’t be friends becasue of our political leanings, we would have never taken the time to get know each at all.
When I was a newspaper editor, there were some issues I felt compelled to take a hard stand on, but sometimes a fact might surface later that I was unaware of. I wished then that I had waited a day to argue my case in light of this new information.
Explain or opine
In general, I felt more comfortable writing explanatory editorials, presenting both sides to a case and letting the reader decide. It depended on the issue and what I knew or didn’t know. Sometimes an editor just has to admit they don’t have all the facts on a subject.
I have blocked a few people from my Facebook page because I felt they were ranting, their rants were not fact-based, and they were being disrespectful to others In some cases, I have agreed politically with these people, but I sitll didn’t want people on my page to be disrespected by these posts.
In some cases I’ve been verbally attacked for even having friends who were conservatives. I don’t choose my friends on the basis of political parties, any more than I choose them on whether they are dog or cat people.
I’ve learned to like both.
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."