Hanging Out with the Other Side

Think about the people you sit with at lunch, meet for a beer, or see at smaller meet-ups. Are they like you? Do you feel more comfortable around people who think like you? Or do you welcome the opportunity to be around those who think differently?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read a Newsweek article about Washington wives of yore. It’s both interesting and sad.

Do you remember the video of Sen. Orrin Hatch (Rep.) speaking at the funeral of his “Irish friend” Ted Kennedy (Dem.)? After you dry your eyes, think about those on the Hill today. What are the chances now that a Republican and a Democrat will have a friendship like this?

Back when their relationship started, Senators and Representatives lived in DC with their families. They spent time hanging out with guys from both sides of the aisle.

“If you live across the street from your political opponent, if you know his kids, if you’ve been to dinner at his house, it’s impossible to go up on the floor of the Senate or in the media and blast him the next day.”

I’m not calling for a return to the “good old days” because they weren’t all good. Permanent residence in DC can lead to a syndrome I detest — the Beltway bubble that insulates some of our politicians from what it’s like to sign or earn a paycheck. I do think it’s important for them to come home and get a sense for what their constituents need, but something was lost along the way.

“Real legislating—the compromises and dealmaking that distinguish politics from posturing—happens only among people who know and respect each other.”

That’s what we lost. Camaraderie and collaboration were lost. People become symbols of their party platform. Static ideology takes precedence over reason and relationships.

Nowadays as soon as they’re elected, the fundraising cycle begins again for the next campaign. Wouldn’t it be better if our policy-makers focused on leading, thinking, collaborating, innovating and legislating while in office, not raising funds and running for the next election? Ah, what a dreamer I am.

It’s easy to demonize the other when you don’t choose to know or understand them. This is the root of racism, religious hatred, homophobia and a host of other evils. That’s the extreme version.

What’s the light version? Think about yourself, or think about the leadership of your company or organization. Do you (or your leadership) surround yourself with those who think like you? Who have the same beliefs or philosophies? Who are the same age, gender, religion, ethnicity or race? Who have the same economic, educational or professional background? Who do or see things the way you do?

What’s missing? Exposure to other perspectives and stories. Serendipity. Don’t knock serendipity. It’s the root of much creativity and innovation in the world.

It’s easy for any of us to get trapped in a bubble. Fortunately, because of social media, it’s also easier now to tap into voices and perspectives outside our bubble. I’m not sure how we’ll change Washington but we can pop our own bubbles.

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flickr photo by missbossy

Author: deirdrereid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, who after more than 20 years in the association and restaurant industries, is enjoying the good life. Away from her laptop, you can find her walking in the woods, doing yoga, journaling, cooking new recipes, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and a glass of craft beer or wine.

6 thoughts on “Hanging Out with the Other Side”

  1. The best part of my experience working on the Hill for Congress was the friends I made. The late 1990s was a very harsh partisan environment but I made a regular effort to hang out with people of both parties. I count Republicans and Democrats as friends to this day and I am neither, heh. A Democrat said to me as I was leaving “I never liked a Republican until I met you” didn’t have the heart to tell him I was a Libertarian. It can be done, but it takes effort and respect for others.

    I see daily people who work outside of politics discussing politics do so with a lot of hatred and that is a place to start. The people who work there don’t use such language with one another and have a base level of respect, something the media and general public don’t realize. Not to say disagreements do not happen and tempers get flared, but people in the field know it comes with the job.

    Regarding financing issues, there is an easy fix that everyone seems to ignore, it has been used in Europe for years. Limit the campaign season. 6 weeks primary, 6 weeks general election no fund-raising or ads outside of that window. Politicians will still give speeches, stump for support and the like, it can’t be stopped. By limiting the time for ads and campaigns only a certain amount of money will be able to be raised and spent. Just not sure if anything less than a constitutional amendment wouldn’t get thrown out by the courts.

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    1. Like you, Thomas, I’ve always had dear friends who had different political views so I don’t understand why people assume those with opposing views must be evil or stupid. Or why people judge others based on their politics, almost like it’s a criteria for friendship or respect. Sad. My politics have changed over the years and I suspect they will continue to do so, and that’s not because I don’t think deeply about politics, because I do. I’m changing, growing and being exposed to new ideas and facts, so my views likely will too. Ugh, I hate that hatred you talk about, that’s as much of a hater as I’ll ever be.

      I would LOVE that system here in the US. I’m sure in time they would figure out ways around it, but it would be a sane place to start. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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  2. It appears that there is some discussion about our elected senators and representatives changing the seating arrangements in DC so they are not along party lines. What a wonderful way to start the dialogue and break down some barriers! Golly, they might actually find that they have something in common with the person beside them that is more important than party affiliation!

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    1. That would be great! Seat them in alphabetical order just like in homeroom, and they can rotate them like a volleyball court if the seating seems unfair to the back of the alphabet. Yes, that is such a good point, Jovita. So simple, so human, isn’t it? Thanks for commenting!

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  3. I hope my representative in Congress doesn’t compromise because she’s friends with somebody whose views I don’t support.

    I expect my representatives to support the views of their constituents, not the views of their beltway buddies.

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    1. I hope the same thing, David. I do believe reps should do just that, represent. That’s why my district just unseated a longtime congresssman — he was no longer representing our views. What bothers me is the tendency to paint the other side as evil symbols, to dehumanize and attack others. I’d like the focus to remain on issues, not personalities and definitely not campaigning all year round. Thanks for commenting!

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