I Celebrate Our Differences and Commonalities In Calling You Friend

Today I got a petition in the mail which sparked something in me because it’s about an issue I’m passionate about: abortion. I’m not going to go into details here, because that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I want to talk about how much I appreciate friends who don’t share my view on everything. How’d I make that segway? Read on.

First, I posted my statement supporting the idea of the petition and a guy I’ve had many friendly chats with on Twitter immediately starts attacking me as ignorant, etc. He attacked like a shark and kept circling back for me. Wouldn’t stop, until finally I just blocked him and told him I didn’t appreciate his lack of respect for my right to free speech and freedom of belief. And this guy’s a government lawyer. Nice attitude he has, huh?

I don’t agree with Atheism, yet I have many Atheist friends. I don’t agree with Global Warming theory, many friends do. I don’t like or support Obama. Many friends do. I still have meaningful and profitable conversations with those friends. I still feel a strong sense of caring and respect for them, and I would miss them if they weren’t in my life.

I honestly don’t get the way so many today refuse to be friends with people who don’t agree with them. Seriously, how boring do you want life to be? Do you really prefer to live safely locked inside your comfortable box where no one ever challenges you to think differently or offers an alternate perspective? As a creative person, I’d starve in an environment like that. As a human being, I’d be quite shallow if I lived like that. You will be too, I promise.

When I went away to college, I encountered things I’d never seen before. Had my first openly gay friend. Met my first Jewish friend. Saw public gay bars. Witnessed many things my small Kansas city didn’t reveal to me. I am a better person for those encounters, whether I agree with everything I saw or not. Agreement is not the point. Awareness is.

If I had never spent New Year’s Day 2004 in an African village right out of National Geographic, topless ladies and all, talking to those people about life in their village, visiting their homes, seeing their hospitality, glimpsing their world, I would not be who I am today. And frankly, I like who I am today, even if you don’t. I don’t claim to know what it’s like to be them. I don’t claim to fully understand them. What I do claim is that I have seen a bit of the world through their eyes and it has made me a better man–better able to imagine how the world can look differently through different eyes; better able to appreciate what I have and how I value it; better able to appreciate that I was a man of much narrower vision before that encounter.

I am a man of passion. I’m not afraid to say what I believe and defend it. I try and do it with respect but even I get pissed sometimes and go off. It’s the liability of an artist, say. But I always try to be respectful of others in countering their opinions or when discussing my own, and I never feel the need to call them ignorant, a bad citizen, or other names. I may think those things sometimes, but truly, I don’t know them inside and out. I don’t know every nook and cranny of their thoughts and experience. How can I truly determine who they are?  What I do know is that they are not like me, and I know they have a right to be who they are.

It’s hard to explain your opinions sometimes. It’s hard to talk about issue people feel passion about and take personally. But this world and our country (US) are worse for the fact we are failing to even try so often these days. The fact we’d rather disown you as a friend and person than try and understand you better and find a way to live with it. And I think that’s really sad, don’t you? I think it’s a real loss.

I’m not willing to live my life that way, as hard as it is sometimes. I value my friends who are gay or nonChristian or whatever as much as those who are like me, straight and Christian. (These traits are just examples. I could offer many more but won’t in the interest of brevity). My point is: I love them no more or less for their views and I refuse to ask them to apologize for theirs or apologize to them for mine. I will attempt to be sensitive to their feelings. I will attempt to present things fairly and in as non-volatile a way as I can. That’s part of respecting and loving other people and the desire for it in return. But I won’t de-friend them. And I hope they don’t de-friend me. (Unless they drive me to it by ignorant behavior like the guy above). Because I need those alternative viewpoints to make me broader, smarter, and more well informed. I need those viewpoints to make me empathetic, understanding, and keep me caring. If I know them and care about them, then discover we differ violently on some issue, I know then I can love someone who’s not like me. Because my love doesn’t stop the minute I discover our differences. And knowing I love people I disagree with helps me be the better person I want to be.

For what it’s worth…