If Hard Times Come

I present this essay just days before the presidential election of 2020. Tensions are high and some predict that the results may be a long time coming. Lawyers are gearing up. Will this be another election decided by the Supreme Court? Whatever the outcome, I think we may be looking at hard times ahead.

The political partisan divide has become so extreme that we think of our opposite not just with dismay but with contempt, as people to be avoided, disappeared, a hostile alien tribe. Yet some members of my opposite tribe are people I hold in high esteem, often worked with to both of our advantage, people I really like but with whom I’ve lost contact. For me, this is reason enough to seek to reestablish valued connections, all the while knowing that our conflicting beliefs will not dissipate and might even strengthen in the months and even years ahead.

And an even broader purpose emerges for reducing this alienation. As the election approaches and the divide grows ever wider, there is nothing to suggest that our national schism will moderate. Scholars of history look to the past, and to other countries, and predict that a populace so divided is ripe for the acceptance of authoritarian leaders and actions that will significantly undermine our democracy.

For several years now I have been following the work of social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind (Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics). As a recognized expert on social movements, when asked how this rift can be breached for the good of the nation, he spoke of healing this fracture with love, referencing an ancient philosopher. Frankly, at first blush, I thought this naïve or at best impossible. Now, with further thought, study, and consultation with equally concerned friends, I’ve become a believer in the premise that: loving friendships across the political divide will make us more resilient when hard times come.

So, how are we to rekindle the filial love once enjoyed, even in the face of our continuing political differences? Last month I suggested that perhaps by coming together and purposefully setting aside any discussion of our partisan differences, we could pose questions to each other genuinely designed to encourage self-disclosure, lower the protective barriers we typically maintain, and deepen our knowledge and connection to each other. I believe we could grow to respect our differences and even reveal ways we are alike.

Every few months I meet for lunch with the son of a dear departed friend of mine. I watched him grow up. He was a good buddy of one of my sons. He is a reserved fellow, self-contained, and our conversations typically deal with each of us reporting on our current lives and those of other family members. Recently, we lunched on an outdoor patio and I described my plan and asked him to serve as a guinea pig and answer some of the questions I had gathered. He agreed, and for an hour or so he addressed many of those on my list. In this short time, I gained greater insight into this young man (now in his 60s but still young to me) than I had in the many lunches we shared over the last few years. A few days later, he wrote,” Your questions were insightfuI and cut to the very root of who I think I am.” I was delighted. It worked. When we meet again, we will both respond to a few additional questions on the list. Our relationship is becoming ever more meaningful.

 I’ve gathered my questions from a number of sources, initially from psychologist Arthur Aron who some years ago famously published a series of 36 questions designed to enhance relationship building. Although later popularized as a device for strangers falling in love, originally, in 1997, they were formulated for speeding up intimacy among strangers.

Aron used the questions regularly in his lectures and freshman classes, pairing up students randomly or experimenting with cross-race friendships to better understand prejudice. The questions have even been used to improve understanding between police officers and community members where tensions run high.

Friends with whom I shared this proposed venture offered additions. They are questions that call for thoughtful responses and offer insights I would never otherwise gather. Here are just a few examples:

 “If you could change one thing about your current situation, what would it be?”

“What would constitute a perfect day for you?”

“For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”

“What if anything is too serious to be joked about?”

I would be happy to send the entire list, as developed to date, to anyone who wishes to have it. The experiment is still in the making. The results are yet to come.

But my belief in the premise is strengthened: loving friendships will make us more resilient if and when hard times come.

23 thoughts on “If Hard Times Come

  1. Thank you Bea. Very important work and good questions to enlarge conversations. I am looking beyond the election as well. I have focused most of my campaign work on developing and supporting Operation Grant, the homegrown anti-Trump Republican group that is an arm of the Lincoln Project. As I meet every week with Republicans who are against Trump and the disastrous degradation of our country and health of our citizens I have been very inspired and encouraged by these exchanges. We still differ widely on many things but I am so glad to be in dialogue with Republicans who evidence integrity, rationality, compassion and courage. We hope to continue connecting after the election. Go to http://www.operationgrant.org to see what we’ve been doing and our out front notable Republican team.

    Thank you for your thoughtful articles.

    Best,

    Jody

    Jodine Grundy E-mail: grundyj@fuse.net Mobile: +1 513 503 1536

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  2. Many thanks for this highly insightful and sensitive piece, Bea. I will share it with others.

    Please send me the entire list of Qs.

    Please STAY SAFE and well! Ken

    Get Outlook for iOS ________________________________

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  3. Good morning, Bea.
    I’d be interested to see the rest of your list. When I read in this morning’s paper that the Amish person they interviewed was for Trump because he is the more godly candidate, all I could say was, “ go figure.” It doesn’t stir up strong feelings in me, but definitely a profound lack of understanding. I don’t think I have too much trouble understanding the cultural divide in this country. I spent a lot of time growing up, and some in recent years, with rural working people in Kentucky. They have always viewed city folks and those with “book learning” with considerable suspicion. They have pride, and their way of life has been insulted . I get that. By the way, that was my grandfather’s background – although he became a doctor and lived in Cincinnati, he never lost his small town Kentucky sensibilities, and I was fortunate to have a perspective on rural, and urban, Appalachian values that I otherwise would not have had from growing up around him. We once had an actual fistfight when I was about 21 and challenged some of his political views at the dinner table. So I don’t see the current division and high emotion as so recent. I don’t see how anyone could see it as recent if they were involved with Vietnam War protests, name calling of “hard hats” and worse on both sides etc. etc. That’s when the current realignment of Democrats and Republicans – along with the infamous southern strategy – occurred. I’d say Trump has reaped what Nixon and Reagan sowed. Clinton’s globalist perspective ( an interesting case of a working class Arkansas kid who crossed over to the Davos class ) alienated union households and probably sealed the deal. He retained enough Elvis charm to generate a lot of support. I think Obama had a lot of charm also – perhaps an underrated factor in all of this.

    From my perspective, there has been tremendous progressive change in the past 40 -50 years, and to see a backlash from those who are not in favor of these changes strikes me as unsurprising. How the ultimate city slicker con man became the standard bearer for rural and working class cultural values, however, is something I will never know! I guess there have always been successful snake oil salesmen! ( that’s the contempt part you mention.)

    So, Bea, you struck a nerve this morning. Now I better do some work!

    All best,
    Mary

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  4. Dear Bea,
    Thank you so much for this deep and meaningful essay. It is all about love, and love in action is the key, I think. Your decision to make a list of questions and actively test them, and then offer them as a means to the end of connecting, and perhaps reconnecting, us moves me deeply. This is the grounding we all can all benefit from, learn from, and actually put into practice if we have the guts and glory to do so!
    Please share the list of questions with me and I promise to report back to you about using them. Not that you asked for that but let’s just say it will mean a lot to me to carry on your good work here.
    THANK YOU!
    Susan

    DrSusanJSteinberg.com

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  5. Hi Bea. It’s Lisa Miner Rosner. I hope that you are doing well.

    I greatly enjoyed your book. So many wonderful insights to share.

    I would like to receive your entire list of questions if it is available per your above post.

    Take care of yourself.

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  6. I would also like to get the list of questions. It seems a good way to help me check in with myself on what I’m really thinking. It’s so easy to go astray in chaos.

    I talked with a neighbor both before and after his Trump sign went up in his yard. Up close he seems like the same caring person he’s always been. (We haven’t addressed politics.) But that sign is like a flashing neon light making me wary. I’d like for that wariness to go away again.

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  7. Bea,

    IT’s simple but, as you said, I also think it would work – at least with some folks.

    I’d love to see the rest of the questions and use some in our family Zooms!

    Thank you for continuing to write meaningful and insightful pieces.

    Susan

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  8. Bea, Please send me the full list of questions. I have family and loved ones with whom I would love to “bridge the divide”. It’s scary, but I think your questions would be a good starting point. Thank you so much for this and all of your posts! Kathy Laufman kathylaufman2@gmail.com

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  9. Hi Bea,
    Can you send me all the questions please. I forwarded your blog on to friends who are either mediators, Quakers, community activists or all or someVC some of the above.

    Thanks,
    Judy

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  10. Bea, your new post reminded me that I want to order your book—I put it off because I have a special request—that you sign it to Yorke. His birthday is coming up and I think this would be a meaningful gift for him. I’m also thinking about having a charcoal drawing I did of the lodge at YBRA framed to give to him—but I’m hesitating because, while it will mean something to him, it will not mean a thing—except being an interesting charcoal drawing—to his wife, Morag.

    Just writing you brings back a flood of memories—some good, some bad—of Larry’s and my time in Cincinnati and in Red Lodge!

    Love, Fran

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  11. Oh wise one, I’d love the full set of questions. I just finished reading McCain’s book published in 2018 where he asks, “ ​When did politics become the principal or only attribute we use to judge people? R and D can be good neighbors, loving parents, loyal American, decent human beings. I don’t remember another time in my life when so many Americans considered someone’s partisan affiliation a test of whether that person was entitled to their respect.” Loving, civil friendships have to be the way to heal the divide.

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  12. Thank you Bea. You always give we thoughts to ponder. I would love the list of questions when you are inclined to share.
    Stay well and hopeful.
    Marie

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  13. What a thoughtful article! Please do send me the questions – scott@scottknox.com. On the same vein, a close friend is interviewing me for an article she is writing. We’re good buddies and I thought had discussed *everything*, but she’s asking me questions about myself, my past, my inspirations and motivations, that we’ve never discussed and it’s deepening our understanding. It’ll be my turn to learn more about her next, which I’m looking forward to!

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  14. Dear Bea, it takes courage to engage in this adventure of relationships. It is so wonderful that you bring this idea to our attention and a model for advancing understanding. Please send me the full list so that I may summon up my courage to do so.
    With optimism,
    Susan

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  15. Bea, you amaze me with your curiosity, awe and wonder. Always vigilant and thoughtful about the ways we can connect regardless of politics and always the peace maker and mediator. You truly are one of my mentors.

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  16. Bea, these observations and your plans to put the ideas in play in several contexts give me hope. I’m eager to follow the effects as they emerge. I will make it through the inevitable ups and downs as I follow election results this week (… weeks, months, ?) more positively by having seen this blog and talked over some of the principles with you. I appreciate the counterbalance these ideas will offer to keep frustrations in perspective. It helps to know there are real possibilities for improvement. Thank you.

    If the list of questions now I have from when we talked about 2 weeks ago has been augmented, I also would appreciate a copy of the newer version.

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  17. Well you got the lawyer part right!

    Here’s hoping for an outcome we want and a swift decision and being rid of the current agony in the white house!

    Send me the list of questions please!

    I’m hoping you’d like to keep participating in the Rosenzoom meetings we enjoyed having you.

    Wanted to share with you I have a plan for a book and keep saying I will do it someday… I’ve made modest attempts… I’ll share my idea since you seem so insightful … it has to do with interviewing immigrants and creating a book of their short stories… I would basically do it with UBER drivers…I’ve spent many many insightful drives basically interviewing drivers and have heard the most amazing stories…how they got to the US and what their families do … their kids etc… I’d love to help others hear some of these amazing stories too… I doubt the right people would read the book… but…it’s a start…and Trumps eliminating so many of the immigration programs are tragic…anyway…covid definitely puts a damper on the idea but the biggest problem is time!

    Hoping for the best! Anne

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  18. Yes, yes please – I’d love to see the full list of questions. They sound like great questions for friends, family, and everyone else. They are thoughtful and insightful. And I expect that the answers would change as we think, rethink and evolve.

    Harriet

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  19. Bea: Please send the list for our “experiments”. Bill & Jane

    *From:* Bea V. Larsen *Sent:* Sunday, November 1, 2020 9:12 AM *To:* duning@grayandduning.com *Subject:* [New post] If Hard Times Come

    bealarsen posted: ” I present this essay just days before the presidential election of 2020. Tensions are high and some predict that the results may be a long time coming. Lawyers are gearing up. Will this be another election decided by the Supreme Court? Whatever the outco”

    Like

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