Do politics Trump friendship?


Perhaps a dividing line somewhere in the middle of the US would do the trick.

We could just draw a horizontal line somewhere in the middle of the United States. All those of one mindset can move to one side, and the remaining ones can move to the other. (A vertical line won’t work. A left and right divide is probably just too obvious.)

We could end the facade of listening to one another and considering other viewpoints. We could stop pretending that there is any common ground to be had, or any real chance at compromise. We can just move to an area where the people are all exactly like us and we can all co-exist happily. And if we cross our fingers and hold our collective breath, perhaps we’ll never disagree about anything again.

We’ll have to “unfriend” everyone whose viewpoints are different than ours, of course. Lucky for us, there’s a handy article being shared around Facebook that offers simple instructions to find, and then unfriend, all your contacts who “like” Donald Trump. It claims you can “drop them like a bad habit” and then “enjoy a bigot-free Facebook feed.”

In my case, that would include 31 of my friends: friends who are intelligent, experienced, politically involved people. Friends who have served this nation in uniform and personally sacrificed for our citizens. Friends whose faith is a vital part of their lives, and others whose family members have worked for years as first-responders in their communities.

Is this really what we’ve come to? Ending our contact with people who disagree with us? Basing our relationships solely on a shared set of political beliefs?

I don’t know why my friends have thrown their support behind Trump, largely because I haven’t asked. But even without knowing, I have not lost sight of what I do know about them. And I respect their right to decide for themselves whom to support, without becoming emotionally involved in their choice.

One of the friends who shared the link about unfriending people is a person I greatly respect. There is very little that he and I agree on politically, but we have had some great discussions about difficult topics, and I admire his candor. I wonder, though, if he  would  really unfriend me if I found some of Trump’s viewpoints thought provoking?

This is a microcosm of what is lacking in this country.

We are largely unwilling to engage in any kind of debate with those whose viewpoints are different than ours. Oh, we’ll argue. We’ll shout our viewpoints from our social media pages and then unfriend anyone who has the audacity to disagree.

But it’s the listening part that we’ve lost. It’s the desire to try to understand another viewpoint that we’re losing.

We are allowing politicians from both sides of the aisle to further divide us, and we’re blindly following along. (And yes. Both sides are doing it.) We are buying into the idea that we couldn’t possibly even remain friends with the people who support the other side.

Women should be angry at men. Blacks should be angry at whites. The lower class should be angry at the upper class. Gun owners should be angry at the gun-control supporters and pro-choice people should be angry at pro-lifers.

We can do better than this. And in fact, some of us are.

I saw an exchange between two young sports enthusiasts on the Internet recently. One was railing against a pitcher who had under-performed in an important game. The other agreed that the performance hadn’t been perfect, but he suggested that the pitcher had built a good career for himself overall, despite the poor performance. And instead of the flame war I thought was coming, the first party agreed that the pitcher had served his team well. And then the second party agreed that the pitcher’s recent performances had been disappointing.

They found a way to hear each other, and find some common ground in the discussion. And though you might argue that this is a much less emotional issue than, say, abortion or gun control, the tenets are still the same.

  • Listen. When the other person is talking, fight the urge to mentally begin building your case against him. Resist the urge to pick apart his argument. Instead, listen. Hear what he is saying.
  • Consider. Allow for the possibility that at least some of what the other person is saying is true. In fact, go a step further. Force yourself to find one small truth in what the other person is saying. If she says the middle class is suffering at the hands of the 1 percent, be willing to agree that the middle class is in trouble. Both parties agree that the middle class is shrinking. Voila. Common ground.
  • Compromise. By definition, it is an agreement made when both sides make concessions. That means that each side will have to give something. There are few, if any, examples of compromise left in our government any more, but we should not accept this as an inevitable truth.
  • Identify. Determine which issues are non-negotiable for you. But realize they can’t ALL be non-negotiable. Decide on the ones that you cannot possibly waver on, and then be willing to give ground in other places. The other person’s non-negotiable may be a place that you can concede a bit of ground. And your non-negotiable may be movable for him.

There is common ground to be had. There may not be much of it, but we have to find it. And there may be some places that we will agree to disagree. But respectful, honest discourse is an excellent start.

Best case: We return civility to our political discourse.

Worst case: We find that politics really do trump friendship.


Parenting, Uncategorized

When a Coincidence Really Isn’t

I could tell by the look on his face that he was lost.

My son was a 6th grader,  standing behind a podium in his school’s library frantically trying to remember the part of his speech that came next. He had won the classroom-level speech competition and had been invited to compete against other classes at the next level of the contest. He had invited me to watch the competition that morning but then greeted me at the library door with the news that he had lost his notecards. He had no copies of his speech and only his memory to draw from.

There was no time for him to recover. He was scheduled to speak first, and he was going to have to muddle through. My heart ached for him, and I wanted nothing more than to whisk him out of that room so that he wouldn’t have to struggle. Three minutes felt like 30, and I was relieved for him when it was all over. He didn’t win the competition. But he survived.

And then he found his notecards inside his binder. And we had a much-needed discussion about organization. And I was thankful that I was there to “dust him off.”

Watching our children struggle can be heart-wrenching. These little people are ours to protect and guide and teach. And even when they fall short or get it wrong because of choices they have made, it’s difficult to fight the urge to rescue them. And it’s even more difficult to equip them to endure the struggles that will surely come.

My daughter has been facing a prolonged struggle at school against a culture of negativity. She has run for office, spoken at meetings, painted bleachers, decorated hallways, rallied support and met with more than a few leaders in our community. The movement enjoyed some early support and she was pleased when many of the students responded positively to the efforts.

But then she was publicly sent out of a meeting because of a misunderstanding between teachers. And then some teachers were less-than-forthcoming about the events that led up to the ejection. And she was chastised for repeating something an adult said to her. And a few adults failed to take a stand when she needed them the most.

And unfortunately that’s just life sometimes.

But there’s good news in this story, and it’s this: I was at home the day that the drama exploded at school, and I was able to drop what I was doing and meet with her for a few minutes when tensions were running high. I should have been working as a substitute teacher that day, but through a strange turn of events, I wasn’t. So I met her in the foyer of the high school and encouraged her to hang tough. I discouraged her from giving up, and I reminded her of Esther, a young Jewish girl in the Bible who found herself in a position of royalty during a time when Haman, a Persian official, wanted to eradicate the Jews. The story challenges that Esther was raised to her “royal position for such a time as this” and affirms that God is sovereign and always in control.

I left my daughter at the high school, and I was encouraged a short while later when, while editing, I found a scripture reference that said “Let us not lose heart in doing good.” So I sent it to her. And I was encouraged again when I received an email from my small group leader at church… about the story of Esther. I forwarded the email to my daughter with a note that we should make sure we don’t miss what God is trying to tell us. And then I watched in awe as the same kind of thing happened repeatedly over the next few days.

Some would chalk it up to coincidence.

The point is that, regardless of whether you are in the camp that believes that God still speaks, He does. He speaks to us through the music that we hear, the words we read, the people we encounter, the trials we face and the circumstances in our lives. His sovereignty doesn’t change simply because we don’t see it.

My friend Jimmy Burgess said it like this: if you drive a Jeep Wrangler, you tend to notice other Jeep Wranglers, because that’s what you’re familiar with. It’s what is relevant in your life. You don’t notice Chevy Malibus on the road, because you aren’t looking for them. They aren’t relevant to you. God doesn’t disappear from my life simply because I don’t make the time to acknowledge him or because I’m not looking for Him. He’s always there. It’s just that when I’m in tune to what He’s doing, I’m more likely to notice. I’m more likely to catch what He’s communicating.

I’m thankful for the past few days, in spite of the fact that they have been so hard on my daughter. I’m grateful for the reminder that good things happen every day, whether we’re watching or not. Like when one of my daughter’s teachers dropped everything to console her after the meeting debacle. And then another teacher who witnessed the ordeal texted me later in the day to make sure my daughter was ok. And I’m inspired by the fact that my daughter has used the experience to re-evaluate her priorities and rethink her commitments.

Don’t miss the good that is happening today. Watch for it. Actively seek it. More importantly, be open to opportunities to be part of the good that is happening.

It’s happening whether you choose to see it or not.




Fish in a Barrel

I saw him bent down in the hallway sweeping sheet music into a pile. There was a young girl beside him hastily shoving the pieces of her flute back into the case. A teacher reminded them that the bell was about to ring, and the two of them dashed into a nearby classroom.

The boy was one that I knew to be a little “busy.” He was animated in class, and it was sometimes tough to keep him focused. I presumed that maybe he had bumped into the girl, caused her to drop her band materials and then stopped to help her recover them. I headed into my own classroom-for-a-day, making a mental note to find him later.

When I did find him, I asked what motivated him to help the girl pick up her music. “She’s my friend. Her stuff fell. She was going to be late.” His answer was nonchalant, as though what he did was a no-brainer of sorts. And that made me happy.

Because it seems as though character doesn’t play much of a role in our curriculum anymore. We don’t formally teach integrity, service or ethics to our students the way we once did. I’m not suggesting that teachers don’t incorporate these lessons into their daily interactions with kids, because I know that many of them do. Simply that it is incumbent upon the teacher to make the connection, because it often isn’t a formal part of the curriculum.

We seem to have relegated the formal teaching of morals and ethics to our churches. Any internet search of “moral lessons” or “ethical anecdotes” ends in a litany of church ministry sites designed to assist Sunday School teachers or youth group leaders.

It seems we have bought into the idea that all of life is a grey area, and that there is no clearly defined right or wrong. That teaching kids moral absolutes is judgmental and wrong somehow. And while that may be true in some cases, it robs us of the opportunity to teach our children important lessons in life. In this case, that it’s never wrong to help someone who needs it. 

It is true that life is messy, and that it can be difficult to make blanket statements about what is always right or always wrong. But we shouldn’t trouble ourselves with all the grey area. Instead,  we should demonstrate what right looks like by lending our own effort to someone else. If the kids in our lives miss an opportunity to pitch in, we can coach them so they’ll recognize it the next time.

Mostly, though, we should commend those kids when they get it right. Because recognition for making good choices is the best impetus for them to continue doing it.

I told the kid from the hallway that he had done a great thing. I thanked him for helping her, and told him to keep up the good work.

When I saw him again a few days later, I was trying to coax his classmates out of the gym toward their next class. He was the last to leave the gym and I reminded him that the bell was about to ring. “I know,” he said. “See? I’m helping again.”

I thanked him and encouraged him to keep up the good work, and I realized in that moment that positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in the hands of adults. If we take the time to catch kids doing the right thing, and recognize their efforts, they’ll continue doing the right thing. Then other kids will see it, and they’ll strive to do the same.

As he was leaving the gym, one of his friends witnessed our exchange and asked what his friend had done that was so great. I told him the story and watched him walk into the gym. On his way to the locker room, he picked up a stray duffel bag that was in the middle of the court and put it on the shelf where it belonged. “Here’s my contribution,” he called to me.

Like shooting fish in a barrel.


Popcorn and Hand Grenades

We survived.

Our first week of home-schooling is behind us, and my son and I are still on speaking terms. I might even go so far as to say we’re both pretty thrilled.

We’ve been considering it for months, but finally committed to it in December. I didn’t tell a whole lot of people, because I was pretty overwhelmed at the mere thought of doing it. Defending the decision felt like a battle I wasn’t ready for.

I was worried that, because I’m not as organized as I’d like to be, my son and his schoolwork would suffer.  Continue reading