One time, I was in a bar with some old friends. Suddenly, everyone was silent and a man, obviously a regular, raised his glass.
“You know what I love about this bar?” he queried.
As a group, the whole bar responded, “No yuppies!”
Obviously, this was a nightly ritual and I not only found it hilarious, it felt great to be part of the group, putting down a stereotypical uber-consumer of the type I often find annoying—for about a minute. Then it occurred to me, if these people knew about my degree from a fancy-pants college and my latte habit, would I still be considered an insider? Would those things trump my working class background? Yipes!
It feels good to be part of a group of likeminded people, whether it’s a church, a lifestyle, an ethnicity, or, you guessed it, a political tendency. In fact, all these things get mixed up together in ways that may not even make logical sense, if we ever thought about it, which we almost never do. Just like me in the bar, you lose the warm fuzzy feeling when you start to diverge from the group and feel outside it.
We often talk about not making others into stereotypical outsiders, but in today’s column, I’m going to talk about what happens when we look at our own group and find we don’t agree about something.
Let’s say you’re basically conservative politically, but you’ve become outraged by white collar crime and appalled at the double standard between the punishment for petty theft and the punishment for the pocketing of millions through tax fraud. You’re with your friends. You always pretty much agree. Then, up comes the subject of Paul Manafort. Oops. You think they should throw the book at him. Your friends think it is part of a conspiracy to bring down the presidency. Suddenly you’re not on the inside anymore, even though your views on most things haven’t changed at all. Disagreeing with your long-time political foes is nothing compared to disagreeing with your own side, because not only is your membership in the club at stake, but people whose judgment you trust disagree with you. If these folks are so right about most things and their stance hangs together pretty well, how can they be wrong about this?
I recently went through this dilemma when my foreign policy ideas differed significantly from some friends who I consider “on my side” politically. The peer pressure was huge and most of the arguing wasn’t even in person. Imagine being a politically progressive Zionist on a college campus, or a pro-choice Republican in the Senate.
I’d like you to go over your political beliefs and defend them—to yourself. Do you think X because people like you think X; because X is part of your political ideology; or because you truly believe X? I’ve been doing this a lot lately and it makes me feel really uncomfortable, but I’ll take intellectual honesty over feeling comfortable any time. If you want to get anywhere in political discussions where you disagree with your group, you have to have thought deeply and honestly about your ideas, because this time, the adversary is on YOUR team.
Your new idea may have hatched through listening to people outside your group or from your own logic. Don’t discard it because it’s an uncomfortable fit with the rest of your identity or ideology. Wrestle with it, and when you have it pinned, get back in the ring with your comrades, take a deep breath and wrestle with them.