I have a good friend from high school who is a member of the tea party. I am not.
We are certainly aware that we swim in different directions politically, and we are still able to talk about certain current events without ideological diatribes emerging. But mostly we keep away from hot-button political issues. I was polite about the Bush administration; she’s been polite about the Obama tenure. There are, after all, so many other things to talk about after a lifetime of being friends.
But recently we uncharacteristically waded in to politics, and it was eye-opening for me. In an e-mail, she commented about how the tea party reflects so well how she feels about things. OK, door opened, so I responded that while good ideas can come from everywhere, and I understand some of the issues brought forth by the tea party, I was put off by how the wingnut members give the group a bad name. Are they really mad about debt, deficits and taxes or just mad that a black man is in the White House? Where was the fiscal concern under Bush?
OK, maybe I got a little ham-handed in my initial reply. But back and forth we went, and some of the discussion would seem familiar to most. She voiced concerns over media bias distorting a truly populist movement. I responded with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. She spoke of fatigue over abuses of entitlement programs. I spoke of … well, you get the idea. But mostly we shared the life experiences which led us to our points of view.
In our last communication on the subject, we concluded that we would simply agree to disagree and move on. We’ve now pretty much gone back to talking about her daughter’s upcoming wedding, the wrath of volcanoes, health concerns and travel plans. Still, our foray into politics lingers, especially her note that she thinks a lot of our differing views come from differences in urban and rural life lifestyles. She lives in the rural South. I have lived in Spokane most of my adult life (definitely urban in comparison to her neck of the woods) and lived in larger cities on the East Coast before that.
That got me thinking. So, I have been reading and watching a little differently the coverage of tea party activities ever since. I was especially interested in coverage of the tax day tea party events on April 15 in Spokane. Coverage in this newspaper began with opinion voiced by an attendee, a farmer from Oakesdale, and comments from a state representative from Addy, and went on to give a sense of what took place here that day. TV coverage appeared to bring out the populist nature of the protest, which was peaceful and civilized and, from all appearances, pretty impressive.
No, I haven’t gone over to the other side. I have my concerns and suspicions about where the normally visible screamers and haters have gone, but I did allow myself to see what was taking place differently than I might have before I exchanged thoughts with my friend. Of course, there are city people involved in the tea party, but I find myself thinking more and more about America’s urban-rural divide and how that might be in play with the tea party.
Although my words here may seem to be about politics, I don’t mean for them to be. I mean for them to speak to friendship. For so long, my friend and I have tiptoed around certain topics, which is fine, I suppose, because that old piece of advice about steering clear of religion and politics has no doubt saved a lot of family gatherings and friendships. But I think sometimes it’s good to take a chance on a friendship and have a real conversation about potentially incendiary issues.
So my friend and I took that leap of faith and had a true conversation. It was a little risky, really, because you never know how it can go when deep-held beliefs are shared with someone who holds different ones. I really got to see through her eyes; she got to see through mine. She still holds her opinions; I still hold mine. And that’s fine. It was all about illumination, not conversion. For me, I know that my lens is broader now and I’m thinking about things with a greater perspective than I had before.
I think that’s a good exercise in citizenship. And I know it turned out to be a good one in friendship, too.