I published this piece in the days after the 2016 Presidential Election. As we approach the midterm elections, I am reminded of the friends I lost over political debates and have kept those losses close to my heart. This election season, I am going to do my best to debate with my opposite aisle friends, not to win, but to understand. And, to let those who share my beliefs know they aren’t alone. I hope that, because I know how easy it is to lose close friends, I will do a better job of being kind this time around.
There’s a scene in the movie “Dirty Dancing” (also known as The Greatest Movie Of All Time And If You Haven’t Seen It, We Can’t Be Friends) where Jake Houseman, played by Jerry Orbach, has a come to Jesus conversation with his daughter, Baby, played by Jennifer Grey. As Dr. Houseman sits in a deserted gazebo and stares at a lake on a grey, wet day, Baby approaches him to face the music for having been involved in helping a friend get an abortion.
With tears in her eyes, she apologizes for not being honest with him but, at the same time, she reminds her father that he let her down, too. She tells him that he’s not the man she thought he was and the conversation ends with him staring at her, with the realization that, in his anger, he’s a guilty party, too written on his face.
In the days since the election, that poignant scene has repeatedly come to my mind as I have watched the media firestorm unfold and have witnessed the reaction from my friends on both sides of the aisle.
With every passionate post, with every cheerful proclamation that their candidate has won, and with every declaration of heartbreak and anger that the other candidate lost, I’ve realized that many friendships and family relationships are on rocky ground. Arguments have spun out of control and the mudslinging has ramped up as both sides try to process what’s going to happen in our country in the coming months.
As I’ve contemplated the events of the last few months, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ve let some of my friends down.
And it’s humbling.
It’s no secret that I was (and am) a strenuous supporter of Hillary Clinton. I volunteered for her campaign, believed in her mission and defended her vociferously at cocktail parties. I have endured irate words yelled at me from an angry, red faced Trump supporter and have cried a few times over conversations that quickly got personal when politics was brought up in social situations.
I am nothing if not passionate and while I wholeheartedly believed in my candidate, I was often unwilling to see the other side, choosing instead to ignore comments or dismiss discussions as angry rhetoric.
Often, I felt let down by my friends who couldn’t understand why I was standing on my side of the aisle.
In the days since the election though, I’m realizing that, in doing so, I’ve let my friends down, too. I’ve been acting like Dr. Houseman, sitting angrily by a lake, wallowing in my annoyance and irritation that my candidate didn’t win.
I’ve been hostile, I’ve been feeling hurt and I’ve been slow to congratulate my friends on their party’s unexpected win.
But of what I’m really guilty is not listening to my friends with opposing views, of not stopping to really talk to them about how my opinions might have affected them. In being so wrapped up in my own political agenda, in vociferously and unabashedly supporting my candidate, I have hurt people’s feelings and that is a painful realization because my friends are, besides my family, my most prized possessions. My friends keep me going as a mother, lift me up when the weight of my life is so heavy that I can barely stand and make me laugh so hard that I almost pee my pants.
Political candidates will come and go but good friends, the friends you can call at 2 am when there’s an ambulance in your driveway, need to be cherished and nurtured. No political election is worth losing friends because you can’t meet each other in the middle of the aisle. Sometimes, it’s okay to wave at each other from your positions across the aisle and shrug your shoulders as if to say, “This too, will pass.”
And so, to my friends who have differing political opinions, to my fans who have disagreed with my politics, to the random stranger who didn’t understand why I voted for my candidate, I’m going totake a page out of Lin Manuel Miranda’s playbook from the musical Hamilton.
I am going to Talk Less, Smile More.
I am going to listen more than I speak.
I am going to ask for forgiveness for stepping over the boundaries of friendship and for hurting feelings with my strong political opinions. I won’t apologize for my strong beliefs but I’ll own my poor choice of words or heated demeanor as I’ve expressed them.
I am going to argue to understand, rather than win, if I find myself in a political discussion that gets heated.
And, I would hope that, going forward, that I will make my friends and political rivals feel as though they can openly discuss issues with me without feeling hurt or offended. Because that’s what true democracy is: peaceful, open discussion.
At the end of Dirty Dancing, Baby and her father make up after The Greatest Dance Scene In A Movie Ever (also known as the “I Still Want Someone To Do The Lift With Me” scene) and they both move on wiser and stronger in the knowledge that they will both do better. And that’s what I want: moments in the coming months when I can look at my friends with whom I’ve argued and simply say, “No one puts our friendship in a corner.”