I have noticed when you watch cable news, you would think that those on what a few people called the “fringe” of a particular political belief cannot get along with their opposite. The pundits demagogue, fuss, argue, and spit at each other over the smallest of details. It appears that there is no hope for a dialogue and if you watch Congress, this only confirms it.
I do find that there are cases where a person refuses to listen to the other side, but most people get along for the most part no matter what their beliefs are.
In 2011, I was attending a seminary in Northern California. I lived in a dorm and one of my neighbors was an international student from Austria who spoke English. She and I had similar personalities so we developed a friendship because of that.
One day, we had a conversation at breakfast in the cafeteria. I discovered that she was a card carrying socialist and was proud of it. I am a native Texan and while most people think I’m neocon, I am actually a proud card carrying libertarian. I was taken aback a tiny bit as I imagine she was. We were on polar opposite end of the political spectrum. One considered to be far left and the other considered to be far right.
We engaged in a political discussion before school. However, we did not engage in the type of heated debate you see news anchors get involved in. On the contrary, she and I spoke calmly to each other and though we held different opinions, things stayed civil.
Soon, we began to meet weekly where we talked about a whole range of topics and while we had very contrasting beliefs, we always discussed them with an open mind.
Through a few of these conversations, we discovered that we actually had much in common. For instance, she thought how Americans treats our veterans was deplorable, I agreed. I did not understand Europe’s desire to become one nation, she agreed. I liked supporting our veterans and she liked being Austrian.
Over the school year, my friend and I would have many more meaningful conversations. We would not just talk politics, but we would broach social reform, economics, science, religion, and a whole host of topics that we both kept up to date on.
Did we have spirited debate? Yes. Were some of our disagreements passionate? Absolutely. However, it was the fact that we were so different that made our friendship so grand.
Sadly, I lost contact with my friend since she moved home to Austria a year later. I did get a chance to see her again when she visited school for a conference. We only were able to talk once during her visit, but it was good to see her and we spoke of the good ol’ days. This time our conversation was completely devoid of politics.
While our differences had the potential to make our so-called fringe beliefs clash, instead, it brought us a unique understanding of the other’s point-of-view and, I would like to think, we enriched one another’s lives by having open minded conversations with someone of the opposite perspective.