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Adulthood Quiz: How Diverse Are Your Friends Politically?

There’s an interesting post over on Salon by Taffy Brodesser-Akner this week. It’s called “I can’t believe my best friend is...

There’s an interesting post over on Salon by Taffy Brodesser-Akner this week. It’s called “I can’t believe my best friend is a Republican.”

Great title.

The author goes on to explain how she – an avowed public radio-listening, pro-Planned Parenthood, California liberal – has a best friend who actually *likes* Fox News, admires Sarah Palin and – gasp – approves of cutting off funding for NPR. Her daughter’s names are Liberty, Honor and Victory. For reals.

The two women met at a weight-loss group. But, really, it could have been anywhere: a  playground…a writing group…a knitting club. The point is that they met because of a common interest and went on to forge a close personal relationship that transcended politics.

I still remember my own “first.” (Er…Republican that is.)

I went to one of those super-progressive, liberal artsy colleges in New England – you know, the kind where people erected shanty towns on the college green to protest the University’s investment in South Africa. (This was back when apartheid was still in place. Yes, I am *that* old.)  While I’d known one or two Republicans during my college years, they certainly weren’t a close or frequent part of my social circle.

Then I moved to Washington, D.C. where I lived for two years with a group of women from another liberal, progressive Northeastern University. And guess what? One of them was a Republican.

I still remember the shock I registered the first time she mentioned, in passing, that she voted Republican.

“Really?” I asked, incredulously.”Really?

“Of course I do,” she explained, shrugging her shoulders. “I grew up in [quintessential Midwestern state]. Everybody I knew was Republican:  my family, my friends, all the politicians. It’s just how it was.”

I remained shocked for several more months. And the shock, of course, had nothing to do with my friend’s politics, but everything to do with my own assumptions about who I was and the kind of people that surrounded me.

And, of course, it’s not really about whether someone votes Republican or Democrat (or Labour or Conservative). Brodesser-Akner’s article might just as easily have been titled “I can’t believe my best friend is an Atheist…Mormon…Jew…Body-Builder.

The point is that it’s about difference.

Since my post-college ideological awakening, I’m pleased to report that I’ve evolved. I’ve added many Republican friends (and family!) to the roster. With some, we avoid topics like health care and Islam in America (or Israel in the U.K.). With others, we engage in spirited debate.

Over the years – and much like the author – I’ve come to see this diversity in political views as a good thing. As my cousin, who lives in Colorado, pointed out to me during the mid-term elections last autumn, “There are real advantages to living in a ‘Purple state.’ It forces you to be more tolerant.”

I learned to appreciate the value of ideological diversity again when I went to work at Politics Daily. When I started writing there, I just assumed that most – if not all – of the women I’d be writing with would be card-carrying, pro-choicers like myself. I was wrong. From the editors on down, there were plenty of pro-Lifers to be found on the staff, and the median writer was – at least on this issue – a good deal more centrist than I.

One of my former colleagues recently observed on Facebook that working at Politics Daily had made her a bit less liberal (by virtue of being exposed to more conservative ideas.) I don’t feel that way at all. If anything, the experience made me more liberal, because I’m that much more aware of what’s at stake in debates over things like universal health care and the funding of Planned Parenthood.

But because that publication required me to listen to and engage with a diverse set of political views that I didn’t necessarily share, I’m also that much more informed. And I’ve had to work harder to defend my views on things like abortion, rather than taking them for granted

How about you? Do you find that you mostly hang out with like-minded folks or get outside your ideological comfort zone?

Image: MSP: Republican National Convention by jpellgen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

PD–

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  1. daryl boylan April 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    Yes, the overwhelming majority if my friends & family share my polititcal, social, etc. views. And yes,it does help to occasionally have to defend/advance these views with people I like or love who think/feel very differently. I find that I & they mostly avoid touchy subjects (with a few, ALWAYS). But when & with whom I can discuss at least some of them ,, it’s useful, tho’ I can’t remember anyone’s mind being changed. The one exception, the one I could really go to the — uh — mat with, was my late husband, an enthusiastic devil’s advocate if ever there was one. However, with advancing years we did tend to agree more and more. I was not always sure if this really meant he shared more of my views, (I think he mostly did) or if he just tired of the game. Among other things I miss about him was having no one left to argue politics no-holds-barred.

  2. Kelly April 8, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    I grew up as a liberal in a small town in a conservative state. For the longest time, I was the only liberal in my friend group. Yes, it was hard at times, but it also made me hone my beliefs (and my arguments!) and gave me insight into conservatives’ arguments. I did affect some of my friends’ beliefs; others, well, they know at least one Democrat now! Living in a very liberal state now, I get annoyed when others who do agree with me aren’t as well versed in their reasoning–effectively, they’re not any different from the conservatives I grew up with who were only conservative because their family/friends/community were. Either way, yes, I found it very educational to be exposed early to other beliefs.

    • delialloyd April 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

      @Kelly, thanks for dropping by. I, too, am irritated by people whose views I share if they don’t bother to think them through/defend them. @Patricia-I feel your pain. Haven’t seen the TED speech but will look for it. And @daryl-yes-it’s best when these discussions start at home…takes some of the sting out of it.

  3. Patricia April 8, 2011 at 5:59 am #

    Truth is I have always been very Purple – because my father was an appointee in a government office. I played with the Governor’s children on the lawn – no matter their politics and my Uncle was Minister of the Interior under Diefenbaker in Canada – and I got to campaign with him – Wow selling wheat to China in those days was not a popular thing to do – I learned so much.

    We have a great Democratic Governor now – one of the best I have ever experienced, a fabulous Republican Secretary of State and a perverted Republican Attorney General – copycat??? Governor wanta be…

    I think it is diversity which teaches us to dialogue and be great….my concern right now is about Corporations being considered more important that people and how much money is being spent for the rich to control everything – Plutocracy. I am more worried about the Union Busting going on…and how duped the Tea Party/Religious Right will feel when their “rights” are truly abolished. I feel responsible to explain that they are being used to none of our benefit and all that the Palins and Pro-life folks are doing is keeping everyone afraid and riled up so there is no dialogue or even conversation at all – I am with Bill Moyer’s on this one – see his Howard Zinn Lecture on line.

    I truly loved the fellow on a TED speech, a journalist, who takes conversation and values and makes them into visual pictures….when it comes down to values in his pictures the two parties are almost identical…but we are not dealing with a Republican Party and it’s values right now, we seem to be dealing with corporation payoffs and Greed.

    There is no convincing anyone of anything – no conversation – just manipulation and deceit. Just wait until the 1,000s of veterans realize they are getting nothing and they are just been fodder for the corporations – I have been through Viet Nam and still working with those VETs for free…but this new round thinks that they are getting their needs met when they come home….We have thousands on our streets….
    You really rattled my cage with this one!

  4. BigLittleWolf April 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    What an interesting question. Thinking through the eclectic bunch I consider friends, they are demographically, ethnically, socioeconomically and spiritually diverse. But politically? At this point in life, they largely share similar views.

    And thinking back on this, my ex-husband’s political beliefs were the polar opposite of my own. I should have paid attention to that; it said an enormous amount about his priorities and stance toward social responsibility.

  5. Delia Lloyd April 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    @biglittlewolf yes I think that’s a real red flag (so to speak…) I’ve rarely met a couple where both parties didn’t (mostly) agree on politics…it can be very explosive otherwise!

  6. ASuburbanLife April 10, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    This was a really interesting, and also tough to read. Darn, I’m a conflict avoider and it’s so much easier to surround myself with like-minded people. I also read, and appreciated the Salon article you referred to. I started to read the comments to that article, though, and was so disappointed by their inflammatory nature that I just couldn’t continue.

    • delialloyd April 10, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

      Thanks, @Asuburbanlife. I know exactly what you mean. I glanced at them as well and thought, ugggh. I used to feel the same way reading the comments at Politics Daily-people were unbelievably awful to one another. Still, I think i’ts an ideal worth holding out for. Thanks for dropping by.

  7. Rose April 12, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    I wonder if we lived in the same group house in DC?

    I was born a Republican in a Midwestern state. I’ve got a picture of my cousins and I leaning against a car with a “Nixon’s the One” bumper sticker on the back. A year or two back I read both of Rick Perlstein’s books “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus” as well as “Nixonland” in hopes of understanding where I came from a little better. I never quite made it to “The Conscience of a Conserative.”

    Much to my mother’s dismay I’ve registered as a Democrat. It’s not because I’ve turned left, it’s because the state I live in is pretty much a one party state and if you aren’t a Democrat you can’t vote in the primary and the primary is where all the important stuff happens.

    Still I have moderated in my middle-age and I voted for Hillary when I had the chance.

    The good thing about not being a die-hard member of a political group is that you are free to consider all ideas. Given the dearth of good ideas floating around these days I think we owe it to our nation to look them all over and not discard good ones just because they came from the other side of the aisle.

    • delialloyd April 12, 2011 at 6:16 am #

      @rose-good for you and I love the way you put it-it *is* about considering all ideas. And well done you for registering to influence politics early on-you go girl!

  8. Cecilia April 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    We had a shanty town built on my college campus as well (similar generation) ;-)

    Great post, Delia. I like the thoughtfulness that has evolved. As for me, I still have only one Republican friend as far as I know. We’ve stayed in touch on and off since college and I still remember one lunch years ago when it was 2 against one (my friend being the lone Republican). We were polite but discussions got so that she had to leave the table for a few minutes. We’ve gotten much closer over recent years though, as shared experiences in marriage, children, life, etc. have bonded us. Generally speaking, though, I feel that political views spill into general views on life and somehow I have always gravitated toward more like-minded people.

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