Allies & Rivals
Posted on August 23, 2013
I don’t want my relationships to be about how much I agree or disagree with the other people in my life. I am tired of receiving messages that everyone in my life is either my ally or my rival.
I don’t expect myself to be friends with everyone, or to like everyone, or to ignore people’s bad behavior. No one has to ignore their sense of good judgment just to get along with more people.
But when it comes to the people that I am in relationships with already–friends, family members, colleagues, even acquaintances–I refuse to constantly measure the percentage to which we agree or disagree with each other.
I’ve seen people write off others because they may agree on 90% of issues, but that 10% just can’t be overlooked.
My friend Carolyn and I agree pretty much entirely on politics, television, and how awesome our kids are. But we disagree wholeheartedly on religion, and our diets are drastically different from each other’s. (She’s an atheist and a vegan; I’m a Christian and an omnivore.) What percentage am I supposed to assign to us? Do we agree on 80% of things, and disagree on 20%? Or does religion outweigh the others because it’s more important to me than television, and therefore we must be on some sort of 50/50 split?
My new friend Jackie and I love going on walks on the Greenway and talking about family and church and faith. In her words, my political and social beliefs are “completely foreign” to her–some of the things I believe, she has always understood to be objectively wrong. How do I measure the extent of our agreement and disagreement?
Numerous people at my church community have donated their time to remodel a local crisis pregnancy center, which makes me uncomfortable in several ways. But these are also people who volunteer as mentors for kids in one of our public schools, and they spend hours at our food pantry and meal program. Am I supposed to perceive these people as my rivals because they support something I don’t?
What about my mother-in-law? Observers would be obligated to consider us opponents on pretty much every political, social, and entertainment issue, and yet we are allies in our love for Chalupa and Ruthie, our enjoyment of frozen mochas from Panera, and the way we appreciate our own churches.
When my friend Ben came over this week to diagnose our broken water pump, should we have argued about Obama instead of talking about our kids and siblings and old friends from high school?
I don’t understand this idea that we’re supposed to write people off because they don’t agree with us enough. The attitude manifests itself in everything from talking about celebrities and writers (Didn’t you know that Jennifer Lawrence has said offensive things in the past? Real liberals are now contractually obligated to hate her!) to politicians (I liked her until she voted opposite me on this one single issue…) and pastors (He just doesn’t understand what that parable really means…) and friends (she doesn’t vaccinate…) and family members and writers and spouses and artists.
This is not the way I want to live my life.
I like having friends with a variety of belief systems. I like knowing that sometimes, depending on the situation, my “rivals” are really my allies. I don’t want to reject a politician because we agree on nine out of ten things, but there’s one thing that she does that I’m opposed to. I don’t want to rule out a friendship with someone because buried somewhere in their Facebook likes, there is a movie I think is truly despicable. A friend who posts stupid, Snopes-able links on a regular basis has not done anything that deserves my anger. Even disagreeing on big, fundamental, important issues shouldn’t doom a relationship.
A few weeks ago, I lost a friend. I could break it all down–the reasons it happened, the ways I think each of us was wrong, the things that could have prevented it. The simplest explanation that I can come up with is this: we let our rivalries overwhelm what we have in common. Our disagreements became more important than our agreements. Perhaps I can blame the internet, something I usually praise and celebrate. We haven’t seen each other in a decade, and yet because of the internet, she was reminded frequently of just how differently I’ve come to view the world from the way I used to. Instead of the face-to-face interactions that involve tone, adjusting to a specific audience, and body language, we were reduced to screens and interpretations of people we never see.
I don’t want that to happen again. It’s not necessary to ignore disagreements or tolerate bad behavior, but it’s also not a requirement to constantly measure other people up against an imaginary gauge that determines ally or rival.