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The Ties that Bind: How Friendships Survive Elections

Last night at a Republican club, I sat next to a friend of mine who was one of the first people I met when I moved to Citrus in 2016.


We talked about the difference between federal issues and local issues, about tricks in parenting to send stern messages to your kids without getting physical and about Colombian coffee.


One thing we didn’t talk about was that three weeks prior he had come up to me after a different meeting.


“I’ve decided to make a contribution to one of your candidate’s opponents,” he told me matter-of-factly. He then laid out a couple of reasons why though he didn’t have to, we shook hands and continued to talk about other things in life.


The last print cover of the Concurrent was titled “The Ties that Blind” as a play on words with the old saying “the ties that bind” to highlight how some of our allegiances cause us to ignore otherwise obvious facts to form narratives that fit our personal biases.


Social psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt describes this as a byproduct of morality. A phrase he is credited with coining sums up this phenomenon as, “morality binds and blinds.”


When defined like this, it becomes easy to see why my friend and I can still get along despite our differences in one election. Neither of us elevate the preference for our candidate to a moral level.


This is important because one of the other concepts that’s often detailed in the Concurrent as a form of diffusing tension is not present. These are cross-sorts, or the common ground traits, that people can use to build a bond with others.


My friend is 40 years my senior, a veteran, a farmer and has many other traits that I simply don’t have cross-sorts with. Some do exist.


We both value education, have a love for country music the way it used to be, and of course, are passionate enough about Republican politics to be attending meetings. But these weak cross-sorts are only able to shine through because our morality is built on mutual respect rather than who we are supporting in the upcoming election.


Mutual respect was not always present in the club meeting room. There are people, especially during election season, who want to be disrespectful to the point of being disruptive in the name of holding their elected officials accountable. I understand that feeling as well.


Dr. Todd Kashdan’s book The Art of Insubordination has a lengthy explanation why playing the game to some extent is a necessary part of dissent. This initially made me so mad that I stopped reading the book for several days, disbelieving the advice to be true. But the longer I have had time to reflect on it and see it practiced in everyday life, the more I’ve accepted its reality.


Going along to get along feels like compromising your principles. Holding your tongue in a situation that you could interject pains some people personally so they choose the conflict that comes with it as a less extreme pain than that of self-censorship. Some people who support certain candidates who never end up winning then flaunt these minority alliances as a reason why they know more than everyone else despite their electoral losses.


This raises the question of when is the point of self-reflection? When have your views become so consistently in the minority that you begin to reevaluate your approach? Many in both major parties would benefit from this exercise even though to do so would feel like an abandonment of personal principle. It would improve social capital.


Harvard professor Robert Putnam, whose controversial book Bowling Alone published in 2000 that I’m reading now, separated out social capital into two parts. The first is closed, cliquey and usually built around certain traits such as being ethnocentric, socioeconomic exclusive or other like factors.


Putnam calls this bonding social capital. He compares it to super glue and it is how moralities form in these tight-knit sub-communities within communities.


There is another form though. Open, accepting and that can expand our horizons rather than narrow our opinions. Putnam calls this bridging social capital. He compares it to WD-40 rather than super glue.


My friend and I were able to carry on because of bridging social capital and because we never let our candidate choice elevate to a moral height - an increasingly rare feat during an election year. However, it is possible if we work toward it.


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