Finding Common Ground with the ‘Enemy’
A few weeks ago, my friend Billy graciously invited me to his association’s holiday party.
I had a conflict, but said, “What about lunch the next week?” He said, “Absolutely, and I’ll bring AJ.”
Billy and AJ are leaders of the Tennessee AFL-CIO. I’m state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. Very often, our associations take opposing views on legislation. Anyone who knows that might have done a double take if they saw us seated, eating BBQ and hot chicken, having some laughs before the holidays.
Billy and AJ are great guys. Why wouldn’t we break bread together?
At lunch, we didn’t talk about where we disagree … we already know those things. If we did, we could do so civilly. We did talk about our families, state and national politics, and opportunities to improve workplace safety and workforce development. We discussed the 2014 workers’ comp reform law and our unemployment system to see what improvements might be suggested in 2018. They shared how certain apprenticeship programs worked, and I shared a few communication ideas for 2018. They asked me how the new tax law would impact small business. I gave a summary and later shared detail via email.
We had a great time and agreed a lot more than you might think we would. Both bought my book. I signed both copies. We hugged and wished each other Merry Christmas. Meanwhile, on social media, behind phones and screens … other people were having different exchanges about such matters.
Amanda, a new friend on Facebook, recently spotlighted an article in the National Review, a publication with positions often contrary to hers. First, I hope that resonated, that she reads such a publication. Amanda is a scout, not a soldier, who delights in learning something new, whether she agrees or disagrees.
The article noted how – even before the social media phenomenon – we have been isolating ourselves. Consider from 1975 to 2000, the number of Americans who:
Attended a club meeting dropped nearly 60%.
Had family dinners dropped more than 40%.
Had friends over dropped more than 30%.
Also, the Elks boasted 1.6 million members in 1976. By 2012, there were 800,000. In 1964, the Parent Teacher Association boasted 12 million members. By 2016, membership plummeted to fewer than 4 million.
Individual and social change doesn’t happen overnight. It took me years to build a path to improved political and social engagement. First, I had to be less comfortable (yes, the bumper sticker, “don’t believe everything you think”). Then, I had to ask myself … Am I serving regularly, instead of consuming media excessively? Am I reading publications, websites and blogs that only reaffirm my views and deepen my bias? Am I afraid to learn something new and, gulp, alter my views? Am I going to invite more political adversaries to parties, coffee and lunch, and seek opportunities for common ground?
Isolationism is a huge national challenge and our opportunity. Will you and I have more frequent contact with our neighbors and more face-to-face conversations, or be a rambunctious retweeter? Will we attend more civic meetings, and have more family dinners and friends over, or count how many "friends" and "likes" we have on social media?
I believe Amanda, Billy and AJ are a few of many friends who are part of a growing counter-movement to isolationism and polarization. They’re alarmed at tenacious tweeting and pugnacious posts, but they’re doing something about it. They have control over their social media. They’re seeking information from diverse sources. They’re inviting “unusual” friends to connect.
They love their brothers and sisters in our community. They are helping end our uncivil war.
Cheers to their example, and a Happy New Year of Civility Ahead!