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Business Casual: Agreeing To Disagree

One of my oldest and dearest friends and I have disagreed on practically all things political, sociological and pop cultural for so long that on those rare occasions when I sense some accord, I wonder if I have misunderstood the issue.

And yet we have been high school chemistry lab partners, freshman-year college roommates, professional colleagues and, for the last few decades, just plain old good friends. That’s a lot of years and a lot of history.

In high school, we started a fire in the chemistry lab. Fortunately, it was a small fire and no damage was done. Of course it was an accident – as though a future journalism major and future English lit major could have figured out how to light anything without a box of kitchen-sized matches and an instruction book. Our long-suffering teacher quickly extinguished the flame, delivered a withering look and muttered, “Oh, for God’s sake, girls” before turning her back on us.

In college, we complained about 8:00 a.m. classes and commiserated over boyfriends who got away.

As grownups, we’ve offered each other comfort when parents died and congratulations when grandchildren arrived. We swap favorite novels and talk on the phone at halftime during the Georgia games.

This is not a friendship likely to be derailed by the nuances of global warming or immigration policy or Presidential elections.

Most of us, if we are lucky, have such friends with whom we agree to disagree. They tend to be friends of long standing; the older we get, the more our friendships are likely to be circumscribed by our professions, neighborhoods or leisure activities.

But there is nothing quite like a good buddy who simultaneously has your back and keeps you on your toes. It reminds you that not everyone sees the world as you do – a valuable thing to remember every once in a while.

I’m wondering if there might be a lesson in there somewhere for some of the warring politicians, especially those who snipe back and forth on the evening news, ready to disparage anything that did not come from their own party’s playbook. It really is possible to hold fast to your own principles even as you listen to someone else’s take on a situation.

You can play nice without capitulating. You can scorn the sentiment but respect the speaker. You can agree to disagree. And sometimes, if you try, you can find common ground.

Some of the verbal skirmishes, especially on the national scene, are likely just political theater, but I think they do actual harm. The venom that gets spewed seems real enough and has the effect of feeding voters’ suspicions that too many officeholders are self-serving incompetents, in love with the sound of their own voices. The rhetoric can be polarizing.

I’m convinced that there are some middle-ground solutions (call them compromises if you like – I have no problem with the word) to state and national issues of gun control, immigration policy, transportation funding and public school curriculum that are getting lost in the shouting.

A little camaraderie, a little reaching across the aisle, a simple acknowledgement of common interests can be highly effective.

Take the political friendship of Gov. Nathan Deal, a conservative Republican, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a liberal Democrat. Does anybody doubt that Georgia and Atlanta are both better off because of it?

It bodes well for significant projects that affect the state and its capital city – the Savannah port, the new Falcons stadium – and problems that need to be addressed – water, transportation, education. It establishes a nice tone of civility and cooperation that inspires a level of confidence in their leadership.

Their relationship engenders the comforting thought that should some emergency occur or some natural disaster befall us, state and local officials could communicate and work together to find solutions.

I’m guessing Deal and Reed, even without the bonding experience of setting a chemistry lab on fire together, realized that nothing good would come of working against each other but that there was much to be gained from finding areas of agreement. I bet they even like each other.

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