If we wanted to heal our divided country, a good place to begin might be at the very place where that polarization is most evident: in and around our political parties. So I recommend that we, here in the hinterland, model bipartisanship for our recalcitrant politicians by inviting someone of the opposite party to lunch.
Is this kind of a scary idea? Yes, of course. But if we do it right, I believe it can bring us some wonderful benefits. Here are some things to bear in mind to ensure that we do it right:
First of all, do it for the right reason, and be absolutely clear why we’re doing it. What we’re not doing is getting together with them to prove why we’re right and they’re wrong, and what jerks they are for not seeing things the way we do.
What we are doing is attempting to cross over a mysterious foreign boundary, expand our understanding, and explore the possibilities of what may turn out to be a wonderful new friendship.
There are some ground rules that ensure the likelihood of success for the project. A big one concerns who you choose. Invite someone to lunch who truly does represent a different political view from yours (as far as you know). At the same time, try to invite someone where the chemistry seems good, and where you feel you have a good vibe.
In your conversation, avoid the political (or other) topic that divides you, and find some other topic where you have a shared enthusiasm: music, poetry, video games, sports, baseball. Maybe even, (God forbid) opera! Anything that you both feel very good about. That way, whatever differences you may have, you are nonetheless connecting in an area where you both share strong positive emotions.
In fact there’s a recent case of two very famous people who did just that, even in midst of our current national polarization. They are United States Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Justice Scalia was an arch conservative and Justice Ginsburg is a fierce liberal. They were almost always wildly at odds on all the controversial issues they ruled on. But, in spite of their judicial opposition, they handled their differences with good humor and a complete lack of personal animosity.
They first served together in the federal circuit court in Washington, D.C., and then served together again on the Supreme Court, from August 1993 until Scalia’s death 22 years later.
The two great enthusiasms they both shared were for opera and good food. They loved both!
“We were best buddies,” Ginsburg wrote, after Scalia died in 2015. And in spite of the political chasm between them, she was full of praise for Scalia’s intellectual acumen. “He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit,” she once commented, “with the rare ability to make even the most sober judge laugh.”
Democrat Ruth Bader Ginzburg and Republican Antonin Scalia. They had lunch together many times!
So what was the “Secret Sauce” that made Ginsburg and Scalia’s improbable Democrat/Republican friendship work?
Every relationship is, of course, unique in its own way. But there are three things that stand out in the Ginsburg-Scalia relationship that made it work, and could serve as models for other, very different kinds of relationships.
One of them is respect.
Ginsburg had a high regard for the sophisticated reasoning in Scalia’s legal opinions. She didn’t agree with the end positions his legal reasoning led to, but she was nonetheless impressed by the cogency of his thinking. Ginsburg and Scalia had great respect for each other’s minds.
Another thing that fueled their friendship was having a shared passion. In their case it was a passion for both opera and good food. A shared passion for something can bring a flood of good emotion into a relationship, and it did into theirs. It doesn’t really matter what that passion is, as long as you both share it.
Finally, a big factor in Ginzburg and Scalia’s warm relationship was the fact that they both had a great sense of humor. And they weren’t afraid to laugh at themselves! The fact that they both embraced humor in their relationship was extremely bonding. In fact it was a defining trait of their friendship.
So, though Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginzburg were polar opposites politically, they were nonetheless great longterm friends. It was a friendship founded on mutual respect, shared passions, and a great sense of humor.
Could these three bonding forces of mutual respect, shared passion, or sense of humor provide the basis for other relationships between other people? I believe they most certainly could! In fact I believe any one of those traits could form the basis for a deep and vibrant friendship, if that single bond were strong enough.
So, Democrats, invite a Republican to lunch! (And vice versa.)