When I was a child growing up in the 1950’s some of my most pleasant memories were of the friendship and comradery between my father, grandfather, uncle and cousin. The family gathered at our home on three or four holidays, usually Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. After dinner, the men gathered in the living room for “after dinner drinks” and conversation that lasted well into the wee hours of the morning.
Being a child I was sent to bed early and fell asleep to the sound of their voices, shouting and guffawing at each other’s political views. They seemed to agree on very little and the loud argumentative conversation indicated such. Yet in the morning they were again friends, laughing and talking. I learned early that differences of opinion are acceptable as long as intelligent dialogue and discourse are permitted.
This is not the case today. Political and religious differences, even slight ones, alienate friends, split up families, and have become the primary obstruction to creating new friendships. The new model is: You must agree with me on EVERYTHING or you’re my enemy! There is no longer any room for intelligent discourse or debate; no interest in facts that may or may not support a pre-determined point of view; and a reliance on rhetoric, ridicule and intimidation to make ones point.
Being a scientist, I rely primarily on facts. If none are available, the least I can accept is logical theory with some factual foundation. Being both a progressive and an atheist, I am obviously acquainted with a number of people who strongly disagree with my views on many issues, particularly politics, the role of individuals in society, and/or religion. A few of these are friends with whom I can discuss these issues; express my views; listen to theirs; and if nothing more, at least understand the thought processes and basis by which our views were formed. Occasionally, with one or the other of us there is the revelation, “Gee, I never thought of that!” But unfortunately, so many others have become former friends. They have set the bar so high that even the hint of non-agreement sets them into a rage and have thus written me off. One of the most hurtful experiences in my recent past was when a long-time friend with whom I had spent many enjoyable years with, wrote me in an e-mail that “People like you are what’s wrong with this country.” Another — our families having grown up together since college — dragged me across a restaurant table by my shirtfront when he perceived I disagreed with him on the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.
Unfortunately, such divisiveness is not limited to personal relations; it now extends into all our political entities from the local town councils to Congress and, in all walks of life, appears to be growing in application and acceptance. Where does this inevitably lead us? I fear for our society and wish for a return to a time when decisions were made using facts, common sense and civility, not so much for me but for my grandchildren. Maybe I wish for too much.