Time to get back to mingling with our neighborsApr 08, 2022 09:31AM ● By Bryan Gray
A friend of mine told me last week that she had cut off a friendship with a former high school companion. Her friend and the woman’s husband had “turned looney,” she said.
“I could accept the fact that they voted for Donald Trump,” she told me. “But now they are into conspiracy theories and InfoWars nonsense. That’s too creepy. I really don’t want to be around them.”
Certainly she is not alone. In the past 13 years, we’ve heard countless reports of people disassociating themselves from family members or friends due to political beliefs. And that’s why I was intrigued by an op-ed from Daniel Cox, director and founder of the Survey Center on American life.
Published in a recent Deseret News edition, Cox said we live in a nation of strangers. “We are no longer interested in getting to know even the people who live next door. Even when we do talk, we’re increasingly doing it online, a poor way to get to know someone.”
We are, he said, “profoundly ignorant about the way that many of our fellow citizens think, what they feel, and what they want…Of the many problems we face as a country, the lack of faith we have in each other is one of the most concerning.”
Cox is correct. While Utahns might know their neighbors better than in most other states due to active church boundaries, we have become a nation, not of neighbors, but of tribes. Democrats tend to live in urban areas with other Democrats, while Republicans congregate in rural and suburban neighborhoods. When I grew up in Salt Lake City, my block was a multi-cultural stew; of the 22 homes, we had Catholics, Jews, Baptists, Presbyterians, Republicans, Democrats, working class households and executive-dominated homes. A guy who labored in a bakery lived next door to a man who owned a jewelry store; a Baptist mother invited the LDS children to attend a non-denominational summer craft program in her church.
Interacting with people led to understanding. My father thought one of our neighbors was a crazy drunken Republican, but he still invited him to our backyard barbecues. Turned out, the man wasn’t totally crazy; in fact, when he left the bourbon alone his values weren’t much different than ours. He just mistrusted the Kennedys and Roman Catholics in general.
There are, of course, limits. Like my friend, I would not tolerate an association with an InfoWars supporters who believed the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was a fabrication or that Hillary Clinton is behind a ring of child torturers. Likewise, when I see a driver with a car bumper sticker claiming “My dog is smarter than Joe Biden” or “Bernie Sanders is the last hope to save America,” I doubt we could have a meaningful conversation.
But as Cox suggests, we should not just mingle only with our own kind. The service station I frequent is owned by a man whose politics are distinctly different from mine, yet I acknowledge him as kind, charitable, and a contributing member of society. A neighbor wearing a “Let’s Go Brandon” shirt waved at me today as I left for work. I waved back, figuring there are probably many items we could agree upon despite his offensive shirt messaging.
As Cox wrote, “How can we hope to learn anything about people who are different from us when we only interact with people who are similar to ourselves?”