Guest Blog by Vicki T. Gibbs
When it comes to making new friends, shared political views is not on my list of requirements. That’s why I surprised myself recently when I discovered something I had never noticed before: When I meet a new person I really like and connect with, I somehow automatically assume that she and I will have the same political opinions.
Outside of presidential election years, the topic of politics is something most of my friends and I rarely discuss, and I’m fine with that. But I confess I’m always a little surprised to learn that someone’s views are really distant from mine politically. This happened last year when my husband and I moved to a small neighborhood more than an hour away from our old home. Several women welcomed me to the neighborhood and enthusiastically joined me in forming a book club. I found one woman in particular to be friendly, open and fun, and we began spending time together outside of book club, sharing dinner as couples with our spouses, exercising together and just chatting on the phone. She politely asked if she could send me some emails and I agreed. Most of her emails were videos she found amusing or emails she was passing on from her other friends. We had never discussed politics, so I was a bit taken aback when I started receiving highly political emails, including some that she forwarded from other women in our book club. I found myself feeling a bit defensive – not a good way to feel with friends – and so during one of the club’s monthly meetings, I brought the discussion around to the fact that we seemed to have different political leanings. One other woman and I (also new to the neighborhood) were on the liberal end of the scale, while most of the others fell somewhere on the conservative side of the spectrum.
Looking back, I’d say that many of the woman were as surprised as I initially was to learn that we had different political leanings. But once we got everything out in the open, laughing and teasing about it, the whole atmosphere felt more relaxed and comfortable.
Nobody has changed their views, to my knowledge, but my new friend and I are able to occasionally have mini-discussions about politics and even exchange a political cartoon or two. I’ve grown to really care about her and about the other women as well, and I’m proud that something as personal and strong as a political belief isn’t enough to derail a friendship. As Thomas Jefferson reportedly said: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”