Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Friends, Family and Politics

Friends, Families and Politics

by The Gray Dog

I recently received an email from a gentleman that had just ended a very long friendship because of a political disagreement. It seems that his friend launched into a very familiar “I hate Bush” tirade that was the last of many straws piled upon this camel’s back. That seems to be just the way things are headed this year.

My first thought was perhaps this individual should choose his friends a little more wisely, but I realized what a foolish notion that is. The forming of friendships can occur almost instantaneously while the development of friendship is a much more complex and ongoing process. Who among us does not recall taking ‘an instant liking’ to someone? It may be nothing more than the way they look, something they said, a shared circumstance or some other deep innate sense that you are unable to verbalize without further contemplation.

If someone asked you five minutes after this occured, “What do you think of that guy (or gal)?” you probably would have said, “I like him/her.” But if the same questioner asked “Why?”, you might have been hard pressed to have an answer. You are not sure why, you just know that you like that new person!

The human mind being the marvelous instrument it is, will over time begin to attribute characteristics to this new ‘friend’ that you find to be admirable and positive. Likewise, it will often ignore this person’s traits that you normally find irksome in someone you don’t like. This is your logical mind at work, attempting to justify your initial emotional response.

This process is the same whether we are experiencing new friendships or new romances. While the initial emotions experienced when you first saw your wife/girlfriend or husband/boyfriend are decidedly different than the ones experienced when first meeting a friend (male or female), you still enter into the ‘honeymoon’ period. This wonderful new person can do no wrong. They are always fun to be with and your brain is working overtime reinforcing the emotional highs you experience when you are with them. Keep in mind that the same emotional/logical reactions are being experienced by your new friend toward you as well.

Then the honeymoon ends! It happens with your spouse and it happens with your friends. Sometimes it happens simultaneously due to some shared stressful event. More often it occurs at different times for each of you, for no particular reason at all. Of course your first thought is: Did something happen to make them change? Or, Why are they so different all of a sudden?

Usually, nothing has really changed about this person. It’s more likely your own brain experiencing ‘too much of a good thing’. It’s like that uncomfortable feeling you get after a third bowl of chocolate ice cream. You’re certain you still like ice cream but it’s not making you feel quite as good as when you began the first bowl.

After the honeymoon, you still like your spouse/friend but you’re not experiencing quite the same euphoria on a consistent basis. Their warts and flaws start to become visible. They’ve always been there; it’s just that you are now beginning to notice them.

Some marriages and friendships will endure this process. Hopefully through the passage of time the things you first loved, admired or liked about this friend or spouse will continue to outweigh the negatives that appear later. But when the scales tip in the wrong direction or when one tires of condoning or justifying the other’s negative traits, the relationship becomes flawed.

Some will attempt to maintain this friendship or marriage out of a sense of loyalty, convention or in the case of marriage for the sake of children or religious beliefs. But the heart and mind are working together now and there can be no happiness in being with this other person any longer.

WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE GENTLEMAN THAT JUST ENDED A FRIENDSHIP OVER A POLITICAL ARGUMENT?

I’m not sure, other than it made me think about the way I feel toward my own family and friends. I’ve argued and debated with many of them over the years about topics ranging from politics and religion, to subjects so ridiculous and petty I would be embarrassed to list them here.

Many of my family and some of my friends are liberal. They will vote the democratic ticket this year as they always have. Some of them I can debate. We each put on the sponge rubber boxing gloves and attempt to score points while not hurting the other. I respect them for that. It can actually be fun and strengthen our respect for each other.

Others although, recognize as I do, that this is a topic best left alone. We have chosen to place the value of our relationship above our political beliefs and we conscientiously avoid unnecessary conflict. I also respect that.

But for all of us, there is that one friend, that one family member that just can’t recognize the way this game should be played. They want to goad you, provoke you and impugn your intelligence. They want to demonstrate their own brilliance and wisdom by showing you just how ignorant you truly are. Their aim is not to persuade or enlighten. It is to demonstrate some moral superiority that you somehow lack.

While I use politics as an example of divisive issues, it could in reality be any topic of your choosing. The point being that at times in your life, someone you once held close as a dear friend is going to betray you in an unforgivable way. I said earlier that to suggest someone should choose their friends wisely was a foolish sentiment, because it is our friendships that often choose us. But I do think it would be wise to regularly take inventory of our friendships, deciding to keep safe those we still hold dear, while clearing those with questionable value from the shelves, making room for new stock.


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At 9:00 PM, Blogger Another old dog said...

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