In few arenas is contentiousness more prevalent than in politics. I was heartened to read this piece in Time magazine, where U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) shared, “I’m grateful for the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who taught me that the bonds of friendship are stronger than any partisan pull. When I first joined the Senate, I thought that Teddy would be an adversary. Instead we became the best of friends. Teddy and I were a case study in contradictions. He was born into privilege; I was brought up in poverty. He was an East Coast liberal; I was a Reagan conservative. He was a Catholic; I was a Mormon. Yet time and again, we were able to look past our differences to find areas of agreement and forge consensus. Had Teddy and I chosen party loyalty over friendship, we would not have passed some of the most significant bipartisan achievements of modern times—from the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the Ryan White bill and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
Another arena applauding disregard and maybe even hatred for the opponent is in sports. During the 1960’s, no rivalry was as intense as that in the NBA between the Celtics and 76ers, and the two centers leading their respective franchises, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Yet, off the court, the two had a personal relationship that was vastly different from the public perception.
On the court, Russell was always portrayed as the giant-killer, the slayer of the monster named Wilt. Yet, even during the peak of their on-court duels, Russell and Chamberlain often ate dinner at each other’s homes. “We never talked about the last game or the next game or what might happen tomorrow,” Russell said. “We were just a couple of guys who truly enjoyed each other’s company.”
Those of us who are married, have been married, or are in a committed relationship know its highs and lows. But what about when spouses are diametrically opposed…politically…and ply their trade in public forum, one as a conservative and the other a liberal? Mary Matalin and James Carville represent the north and south of the political spectrum. Yet through their 23-year marriage, they have raised two daughters and stuck together through the good and the bad. Carville says their shockingly simple secret is they compartmentalize—keeping their work and political beliefs in proper perspective. Politics is simply one part of a much bigger, glorious household picture. A person’s politics is not the sum total of attributes that make up his or her character.
He adds, “You don’t change anybody’s view of politics. You can only change their view of you.” Then his clincher, “We have an advantage over a lot of people because we’re in love with each other. You know, at the end of the day, that’s kind of a big advantage.”
Growth and renewal is rewarding. Getting there can be a challenge. It brings some discomfort. It requires some compromise. You’ll need to take time to listen to someone else’s story and have some empathy from their perspective. Seek to understand. Who is that fellow employee, neighbor, acquaintance or family member that needs to hear from you? Your surprise may be how much you have in common.