Can Friendships Survive Political Differences?

I have a group of men friends who get together once a month to eat and talk. We have a

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rule that during this monthly meeting, we do not discuss work, sports, or politics. In other words, we want to get a little beyond the usual “guy talk.”

We did make an exception in 2015 when our usual meeting night coincided with the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Series. We congregated in one of our homes to watch the Hawks defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning and bring home The Cup.

We keep in touch through email conversations between meetings and, in the past. There is no rule that says we can’t talk politics in our emails but, most of the time, there are more important things to talk about.

Leading up to and following the Presidential election, our political commentary has increased. I suspect that this is true for others too and that some friendships and family lincoln-memorialrelationships have been strained over the outcome of the election and its implications.

Politics is a topic that creates discomfort in many social situations. I am lead to ask, why is politics so dangerous a topic? What is the problem if you don’t take it personally. Ah, Hamlet said, there is the rub.

I believe our political views are deeply rooted in our personal emotional history. We may think our views are entirely the result of rational thought, and when challenged in a conversation to justify a particular belief, we can maintain that pretense for a while. Sooner or later it comes down to our feelings; feelings that were formed in the crucible of our past.child-angry-1428564-1279x850

Our rawest feelings are often the result of times we were hurt, frightened, or betrayed by someone who was supposed to love us. Talking about our more deeply held political and social beliefs can trigger these feelings. We are then caught in a dilemma.

We may not know why we are feeling this way. We

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may know and not want to risk exposing our pain even to our friends. We continue to

argue our political position, insisting that we are right. That is when friendships and relationships may get damaged. Politics is dangerous because our political beliefs expose our past. Our past exposes the soft underbelly of who we are.

 

I have a “tell” when I am caught in this dilemma. I feel angry and tight in the chest. I become rigid and judgmental of others. I want to fight or flee. I sometimes don’t know the roots of these feelings, why I am so entrenched in a particular viewpoint but I know that I am and that is a start.

Sometimes I just say it. “I realize I am being stubborn and rigid about this and I don’t men-friendship-2-1436724-1280x960know why.”  This simple admission allows me to feel calmer and more open and less threatened. My listener gets some awareness of my difficulty. This often allows us to stop debating our political positions and inquire into how we came by those positions. That is a different and more meaningful conversation. It brings us closer rather than creating distance.

Meditation

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How do I know when I am feeling threatened or emotionally stuck in a point of view?

What are my “tells”?

 

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What would I rather do with friends and family, debate our beliefs or find understanding for one another?

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About almondhead

I am a mental health counselor in private practice. One of the focuses of my practice is helping people with fear, anxiety and their ugly stepsister, depression. I became a counselor after a long career in the technology world, so naturally, I think of the brain as an engineering problem. It can help to understand something about how the brain works. I decided to start this blog as a way to help other people learn about fear, anxiety and relationship. (All our problems are really about relationships.) You can also find me at: www.virtuallyfearless.com www.PsychologyToday.com www.theravive.com http://www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com/
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