The value of having both liberal and conservative friends

A friend of mine recently forwarded me this article from Salon.com, remarking on the fact that it reminded him of the friendship I have with a conservative college classmate.  Indeed, that classmate is one of the most giving people I know, which echoes this story, whereby good people can be found in any ideology.  I encourage you to read the entire article, but here is a relevant excerpt:

Janet's willingness to associate with so many liberal friends — though I know she seeks refuge in chat rooms and magazines that share her beliefs — makes her a better and more interesting person. She has her beliefs challenged constantly. She is more well-read and educated in her politics than most of the liberals I know. Too many liberals I know are lazy, they have a belief system that consists of making fun of Glenn Beck and watching "The Daily Show." Shouldn't their beliefs be challenged, too?

This is a democracy, after all. Isn't it worth understanding a bit more about why approximately half the country votes differently than we do? Isn't it important that we understand why people — good and legitimate Americans, whose votes count as much as ours — like Sarah Palin? Isn't it crucial we figure out why any woman would want to defund Planned Parenthood, if only so we could then address the argument? Nobody benefits from sitting in a room, agreeing with everyone else.

 

The ideas expressed in this article conform to basic social psychology research on the intergroup benefits of having positive contact with outgroups, the role of humanization in perceiving others as worthy of care, and the danger of 'groupthink', which is the extremism that occurs when like minded people only talk amongst themselves.  I also happen to be reading Tattoos on the Heart, by Father Greg Boyle, about the way that expanding our circle of compassion to others is critical in his work to help youth who formerly knew nothing else realize that there is an alternative to being in a gang.  I bet many liberals would agree with his message of inclusion, when it comes to people who have committed some degree of violence, yet the prospect of including our conservative friends in our social circle sometimes seems like a qualitatively different exercise.  Perhaps transcending such judgment, especially in cases when it is intuitively difficult, is a way of being the change that universalists hope to see in the world.

- Ravi Iyer