Repairing friendships that were casualties of the political season

The campaign season was not eternal, after all.  Yesterday we witnessed the inauguration of our president, with customary fanfare, high minded words, aerial crowd photos, and pundits holding forth on democracy and designer shoes.  Suddenly it’s over.  We can catch our breath and return to our usually scheduled programming.  Don’t know about you, but I’m emotionally exhausted.

Time to shift focus to our intimate world, and to our friendships.  How have they fared, while we were preoccupied?

If you breathe air, you have been affected by the abrasive political climate swirling around us.  Life in community, this year, has meant navigating stinging mistrust, even among our friends.  Disagreement has become toxic to the point that, according to an informal study by Mashable, 47% of us have unfriended people on Facebook for political reasons during this election season, not to mention those we have quietly muted or ignored.

Sharing cyberspace, if not sharing coffee, with a friend  of a different political viewpoint has become difficult, as if being civil compromised one’s deep convictions.  Ordinary  life got sucked into a huge partisan struggle, from which it is hard to pull free.  Facebook conversation has been overtaken with sarcasm, posturing, and finally, friends avoiding one another.

Breathing politically charged air, we have turned into “us” and “them”.  Group identity took over everything else for a while, sometimes at significant personal cost.  As we uncoil from the season’s political drama, it’s not clear if these friendships are healing.  Mashable asked people to post about how this process of moving past the election is going.  To date, nobody has commented.  The post has been shared 10 thousand times.

Not much has been written yet about how to repair friendships wounded by politics.  Psychologists are studying why we have become so partisan, so vulnerable and furious that we reject our politically misguided friends.  Social scientists are exploring the possibility of encouraging more moderate views in society, and toning down the demonizing language of political action groups flooding the airwaves, that apparently does not have to be justified. But these remedies require acts of congress: changes in campaign funding and filibuster rules, for example.  For the sake of our personal wellbeing, I don’t think we can wait.

In the meantime, it is left to the social media etiquette mavens, to help us heal.

Ironically, they suggest we make amends in person.

The Arizona Republic (Social Media Friends Begin Post-Election Fence Mending) suggests that we change the subject.  Find your sense of humor, but don’t ignore the hurt of political jibes, they say.  Huffpost (America Divided: Post-Election Nation in Need of Healing) shares the voices of small town people in Virginia, whose political opponents are also their close neighbors, who must continue to depend on one another.  Townspeople still gather at the local bookstore; normal conversations are resuming, about music and family gossip.  The volume has been turned down, but the hurt does not appear to be gone.  There is no formula for healing.

How can we tend politically wounded friendships?

First, observe others.  Is it safe to proceed?  If small gestures of willingness are not reciprocated, but met with continued rhetoric, it is just not time.  Go on record saying so, with regret.  Awareness is good medicine.

Observe yourself.   We can reduce the power of labels.  Never has a political view been enough to capture our whole being.  Who else are you, besides a D or an R or a whatever?  Daughter, photographer,  economist, vegan, hiker, soprano, contralto, beekeeper, Christian, yogi, bargain hunter, scientist?  We do not ask ourselves how it is possible to be both a beekeeper and a soprano.  Perhaps we can reclaim interest in meaningful common ground, without minimizing our differences.  Perhaps we can defer some disagreements.  Not forever, but for now.  Relationships matter.

Increase our tolerance for ambiguity.  We can resist the temptation to classify a person as just plain conservative, or completely radical, or totally  predictable, or entirely sane.  We can search for exceptions to the images we hold of one another that were painted with a broad brush, of those smug ideologues who have wounded and diminished us.   Allow others to surprise us: look more closely and we may discover a conservative herbal healer, jazz playing accountant, faith-based angry liberal.  If we can acknowledge that our images of our adversaries may be incomplete, we allow more breathing space for healing.

Be candid and assertive.  In the heat of politics, we may have been disrespected, subjected to snark, ignored, deleted.   Healing is more likely when we  acknowledge feeling angry about being invisible to our friends, whose loyalty went elsewhere.  In a polarized society, our friends have seemed like aliens from another political world, who were certain of their views, and intent on winning.  Political principles matter.  Still, we are wondering where the benevolence went. They may wonder, too.

This process of post-election healing is difficult.  Some relationships have lost their mooring.  But genuine friendship is rare enough to be worth the awkward, mutual search for solid ground.


About Lynn Schlossberger

I am a mental health counselor, writer and photographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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5 Responses to Repairing friendships that were casualties of the political season

  1. Renée says:

    Beautiful post! I have several bipartisan friendships that I have managed to retain by deciding to “allow” people to have their own beliefs. Of course, I think mine are right and theirs are wrong (and they probably think the same!), but that doesn’t negate all of their other good qualities that I really do enjoy. That’s what I cling to and that’s why it’s important that I keep these people in my life.

  2. Martie Richmond says:

    I’ve always been pretty much a ‘go-with-the flow’ kind of person, but you are right, there was just something about this past election that brought out the tiger in a lot of people. I don’t think I’ve lost friends over it, but then the introvert in me tends to pull back a bit when thing get too hot. So, examining my reasons for feeling so strongly this go around, I’m thinking perhaps it is because this country is in such a mess, both economically & politically and there are so many hot topics looking for legal resolution that I realize that for the first time in my many years I feel uncertain about the future of this great nation. Change makes a lot of us uncomfortable, and many, like myself, have seen a great deal in fairly short order. But then, I also realize that sometimes change brings about some good things, so I’ll wait and see. And so will my poor misguided friends on the other side of the fence. (a sense of humor is helpful in these times!)

    • I wonder if there is really more at risk or more social change right now, or whether we just think so, as others before us have always done. Our anxious words get magnified in volume by social media, and we broadcast them before we even have a chance to reflect. So we wait, warily, with our friends as the story unfolds. My question is, what do we do in the meantime? How are your fierce tigers doing?

      • Martie Richmond says:

        My fierce tigers seem to be doing fine – one is even in D.C. this week & attended the inauguration – I reckon all is well. I think in the meantime, I’m doing what I always do, which is engage in other activities I enjoy. And continue praying that God gives guidence to the folks in charge, even if I don’t think they should be there. And continue enjoying the occassional sparring with my friends of different viewpoints from mine. It’s what keeps life interesting.

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