2022 Resolution: Form genuine friendships with people who hold ideas I hate
I am making a different New Year’s resolution for 2022, and I am hoping others will join me.
I will work to make a minimum of two daily friends this year with whom I have big disagreements. I’m defining a “daily friend,” as someone who will take my call whenever available and for whom I would do the same. What is a big disagreement? The marker for this is a member of an organization I would never, myself, join due to the beliefs it promotes. That’s right, I’m talking about someone from another political party or an advocacy group promoting a stance I am against.
And to listen. My purpose is not to change anyone’s mind but to practice what I preach and foster open respect between us. Tolerance. My conviction is that even on the biggest issues that divide us today, there is meaningful and fulfilling common ground to be had if we can cut through the polarizing social media algorithms and the political speak that divides us.
This may all sound obvious. But after the 2016 election, I wrote off people in my life because of their vote. Like so many others, I retreated to my own echo chamber of like-minded friends and allowed my view of reality to become stupefyingly distorted. I now see how many of our public institutions and news media have followed this path.
My inspiration to change is largely rooted in learning about Daryl Davis, the African American musician, author, TED lecturer, and a founding advisor to the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), “a nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing civil rights and liberties for all Americans, and promoting a common culture based on fairness, understanding, and humanity.”
FAIR’s founding advisory board is comprised of academics, journalists, and public intellectuals from every ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and political affiliation. Regardless of where you sit on the hot button issues of our time, someone on the board will make you feel comfortable, and others will make you feel uncomfortable. That is part of the point.
Back to Davis. His story is astonishing. It began in 1968 in Belmont, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. He was 10 years old.
Davis was selected to carry the U.S. flag in a Cub Scout parade. The crowd pelted him with trash and hateful comments about his skin color. Davis experienced this from a special vantage point. His dad had been one of the early African Americans in the Foreign Service, providing Daryl with the experience of attending his early grades at international schools overseas where people from all different ethnic backgrounds and national origins learned together. This was at a time when such interaction was rare inside of America. Having spent his earliest years in such an open and welcoming environment, the young Daryl was shocked to feel less welcome in communities back here at home in America.
His question was simple and clear: “How can people hate me when they don’t even know me?”
Thirty years later, performing at an all-white country-western bar, a man came up to Davis and complimented him on his music. The man asserted that he had never spoken to a non-white person before. Davis did not believe him. The man opened his wallet and showed him his Ku Klux Klan membership card.
Davis learned the answer to his question as a 10-year-old. Hate comes easy when taught in isolation. For the rest of his life since that realization, Davis has befriended KKK members, respectfully asking them how they came to their beliefs. Davis has since been instrumental in getting some 200 individuals to leave the Klan.
Davis did not try to change minds, but his respectfulness in the face of hate opened them.
Davis is not alone in promoting respectful dialog across great social divides. Mismatch is an online platform that sets up structured (read respectful) conversations with people with different values. More than 90 percent of participants found the experience changed their views of their “opponents” for the better.
A separate study by UC Berkeley and University of Chicago researchers gave 850 partisan Democrats and Republicans both written and verbal explanations of their opponent’s views. Those that received the audio versions — people discussing their beliefs in their own voices — were far more receptive to the differing ideas.
“This humanizing result was not simply the consequence of having more information about another person,” the researchers said. “A person’s voice seems to be uniquely humanizing.”
In his book, “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt,” economist and former head of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute Arthur C. Brooks makes a behavioral science-based case for respectfully engaging people with different views. We should do this not just because it is our civic duty, but because it is good for us:
- We are happier when we are respectful and empathetic.
- The competition of ideas leads to better outcomes than groupthink.
Tolerance is a tricky virtue. Are some things intolerable? Of course. Brooks makes a helpful differentiation between “views” that are contemptible and “people” who rarely are — especially when we get to know them.
Now am I expecting to muster the ability to befriend people who have a stated hate for me or am I asking others to act as magnanimously as Daryl Davis?
No, I am not.
But if Daryl Davis can build relationships with such people, then I know that every one of us has it within to cut through flattening political speech to see the goodness within most people, even when they hold views about which we disagree. Conversely, if we fail to have close personal interactions with such people, we quickly forget their essential humanity and they forget ours.
Daryl Davis says every person in the world wants the same five things:
- To be listened to
- A happy family
These values guide how he treats the KKK members he befriends. “The idea that we all can’t get along is stupid,” Davis said. “My life proves it.”
Heading into 2022, I would like my life to prove it, too. So, I resolve to step way out of my echo chamber and respectfully listen to people who hold values I despise on the surface. My goal is to understand and to find common ground.
And I welcome you to hold me accountable.
Maybe you will even join me in the effort, and we can compare notes along the way.
Wishing each of you, individually, and all of us, together, the benefits of such friend-making in 2022!