Liberals and Conservatives Can Be Friends!

I believe so; and, somehow over the course of my leftist life, several of my best friends—people I love and respect—happen to be conservative.

One in particular sometimes frustrates me to no end, with views that border on frightening. He’s not just “don’t wear white after Labor Day” conservative, but so far right as to make the Tea Party appear rational.

And we are still friends.

To maintain a cross-political relationship does require a lot of work, though. Both parties have to have a strong belief in freedom of speech—even speech that they vehemently disagree with—and it helps to have an almost-superhuman ability to overlook comments or viewpoints that make you cringe inside.

And sometimes, even that is not enough.

One of my closest friends is a frequent poster on social network sites, which means I often see many of his political diatribes that sometimes cause me to choke and sputter in outrage and disbelief.

Many of the issues we disagree on pertain to simple politics, where facts play little role. For example, he places the blame for the federal deficit squarely on President Obama’s shoulders, and absolves former-President Bush of any culpability.

There’s no room for compromise here. Our opinions are cemented in how differently we see and understand “the facts.”

I wonder about my right-leaning friends; for I know they are quality individuals; honest, hard-working and without prejudice. They are the kind of people you’d want to be your neighbors, your friends.

How can so many of my treasured friends hold political views so abhorrent to my own? Believe me, I have thought about this often. I think the answer is empathy.

Some of my friends don’t think the federal government should regulate businesses; but I say that was once the norm in America and we had 10-year-old kids working 12-hour days in coal mines.

That’s why I think the main difference is empathy. Conservatives can’t put themselves in the shoes of the abused worker, because when they envision the scenario they see themselves as owning the business, never as one of the average workers.

A national issue now is whether businesses have to serve gay customers. Conservatives say a business owner should be able to decide what customers he or she will serve.

Again that stance is rooted in the inability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But I grew up in a pleasant small town in Rhode Island, and what if stores there could decide not to serve brown-skinned people? Guess what; my town only had two brown-skinned families, so 99.9 percent of the town—including my conservative friends—wouldn’t have been affected by such a change.

I have no doubt my family would. My parents wanted to buy a house once when one the community’s leading members said he’d have to check to make sure none of the other homeowners objected to a brown-skinned family living in the neighborhood.

The issue that my conservative friend recently railed at was assimilation; he basically said if you don’t want to assimilate into American society, you should just go back where you came from.

I can’t tell you how offended I was by that comment.

Now, I can understand how my friend could reach that conclusion. As I said, a lack of empathy is the culprit. My friend is a white male, so when has his ilk ever had to assimilate to anything in America? It’s easy to tell others to assimilate to your societal views, when it requires no change on your part.

His views on assimilation were especially distasteful to me, because I am an American Indian—a group of people who were forced to assimilate. Nor am I talking about things that happened hundreds of years ago.

My wife’s mother remembers the day she was “captured,” that’s the word she uses. In the late 1940s-early 1950s Navajos didn’t own cars, so when a car came down the road Indian parents warned their children to run into the hills and hide until the white people left. One day, my mother-in-law was too slow and the people in the car grabbed her, threw her in the back seat and took her from Arizona to Oklahoma so she could be assimilated. She was nine.

My father-in-law was only 5 when white government workers came to his rural Arizona community, yanked him away from his mother and sent him to Oklahoma.

They were children who did not speak English, who did not understand what was happening, who feared they would never see their families again.

It is a shame that my conservative friend, who believes in assimilation, lacks the ability to see it from another point of view. I have no doubt that he would think less highly of assimilation if some foreign government had pulled into his driveway and stole his 5-year-old child away.

John Christian Hopkins is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island. He is the author of Carlomagno. He currently lives on he Navajo Reservation with his wife, Sararesa.