I have two friends whom I consider to be intelligent, warm, funny, kind, and moral. These are people I have known for most of my life and who I've kept in close contact with until…this past election season. Both of my good friends seemed to have completely lost their minds. True, it's only my opinion, but it was difficult to hold a rational conversation without it turning ugly. There seemed to be no common ground on which to stand other than the sometimes tried-and-true: "Hey, it's ONLY politics." But even then it seemed as though a deep divide had already been dug, and it was as if we both looked at the other in a wholly new (and disappointing) light.
My question, then, is this: How do you maintain, or even retrieve, that special feeling for someone who you plainly think left his brain at home during the trek to the polls on November 2? Was this election a litmus test on friendship? On intelligence? On being an American? I prefer to shrug and say, "It's only politics," but that hasn't helped thaw the ice yet.
- Alex from Los Angeles
Polarizing Politics (Part 1)
Strong feelings usually fly high during Presidential election years. When people care deeply they pour their time, money and effort into a particular candidate and it REALLY matters who wins. The problem is that one side loses and the other side wins. You cannot have a win/win scenario.
Even though this traditionally happens, it does seem that this year there is an even larger divide in the country than we have ever seen before. People are either extremely happy or extremely upset and angry about the election results. Why is that? The country appears to be on two different tracks which share little in common. The two views of America are so radically different that the two sides are hardly speaking to each other anymore.
Of course there is lecturing each other, ridiculing each other, judging each other and the constant analyzing of each other promoted by the various news media. These things tend to keep the two sides backed up against their own walls. Often at the end of a sports event the players shake hands as they leave the field to signify a respect and acceptance of the outcome but that kind of thing certainly isn't carrying over to the aftermath of this past election.
I say all of the above to tell you that what you are experiencing is no surprise. It simply mirrors the larger picture. It is what the whole country looks like right now. Is there a solution? Yes, God always has a solution.
Next: First things first - examine your heart
Where is your heart in the great divide? (Part 2)
Always start with yourself first. When you have hard feelings over any issue with another person (not just political disagreements) it is a good idea to examine the root of them. Being really honest with yourself, how do you feel? Judgmental? Smug? Better than them? Angry that they are so stupid? Hurt about the way they treated you? Withdrawn emotionally so you can protect yourself? A deadening of the respect you once felt? Wanting to say "I told you so"? Revengeful?
That's quite an array of thoughts and emotions that you may be dealing with. If you don't honestly assess which of them are attached to you it will be very difficult to normalize relations again. All you will do is gloss over the bad feelings and ignore them as best you can until the next incident brings it all up to the surface again.
You cannot be responsible for the heart of another person but this you can do: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18) That means you are called to be a peacemaker in all your relationships. This does not mean to sit back passively and simply not be the instigator of quarrels. Living at peace with everyone is an active pursuit and one that may pinch your pride as you humble yourself and give up any of those negative emotions mentioned above.
Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Sounds pretty but it is really pretty tough. We'll talk tomorrow about how tough that can be.
Next: Who is my neighbor?
Loving your neighbor can be tough love - tough for you that is (Part 3)
Jesus once had a conversation with a man who was an expert in Jewish law. After affirming to the man that the greatest commandment is: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27) the man asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
The Lord then tells the story which is often referred to as the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho was accosted by robbers. He was beaten, robbed and left for dead. Two Jewish leaders, a priest and a scholar, passed by and saw him but very deliberately did not help him. Now along comes a Samaritan (a bitter enemy of Jews) and he picks the man up, dresses his wounds, gives up his donkey so the man can ride and delivers him to the equivalent of a hospital and pays all the bills.
After telling the story, Jesus asks; "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The man rightly answers that it was the Samaritan who had mercy on him. "Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
Since we have a hard time relating to the animosity between Jews and Samaritans, let's put this in a more modern setting - in fact, let's make it a political setting. What if the man robbed and left for dead was a loyal conservative and he was overlooked and ignored by Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter (two high profile outspoken conservative commentators and leaders)? But suppose along comes Michael Moore (a strong liberal if ever there was one) and he picks up the poor man and treats him like his own brother.
So the first answer to your question about restoring the relationships which have been damaged by the election is what Jesus told the man; "Go and do likewise." See why I said that this is tough?
Next: How can I go and do likewise?
Practical steps to restoration (Part 4)
Have you heard of the saying, "killing someone with kindness"? It means going overboard in kind deeds to someone so that it is impossible for them to hold hard feelings against you anymore. In practical ways, you be the instigator of kindness, generosity and grace to those friends where the relationship is marred. Such as?
Such as a phone call or visit in which you say something about how much they mean to you as a friend. You might say; "I know we disagreed on politics but you are more important to me than how the election turned out. I hope I didn't get too out of hand in our arguments and if I did I want to say I'm sorry." (Maybe you feel they are the one that got out of hand but YOU graciously own it instead.)
Such as thinking of something you know would make them happy and doing it. Such as a small cute gag gift that will break the ice. You might be thinking; yes, I know that will make THEM feel better but how about ME feeling better? The amazing thing you will find if you take the first step is that it will help dissolve your hard feeling too. But you have to step out and do something in order to find that out. That is very often the hardest part.
Next: Will this back up on me later?
Prevent hard feelings from returning (Part 5)
When we don't resolve issues in relationships, they often come back later. That's why it is not a good idea to stuff things deep inside and ignore them. Perhaps you think that is exactly what Part 4 is suggesting because the burden to "get over it" is on you. This will not happen as long as you reach out from your heart to the best of your ability. You also have to realize you are making a decision to love your neighbor/friend and you may have to remind yourself about that later.
Somewhere down the road another incident may arise to reignite the bad feelings. Stop and say; "No, I choose not to feel that way again. I gave that up before. It's done and I'm not allowing it back in." Don't dwell on it, don't relive it, and don't have new arguments with the person in your mind. Just say no to all of that and go on with kindness and love.
Friendships grow and deepen in times of trouble. It is worth it to weather storms because as years go by those friendships become more and more important. Elections and candidates and political perspectives come and go but as you get older, nothing can beat a true friend. Keep every single one you can. Remember this final advice; "Love never fails." (I Corinthians 13:8)