My best friend growing up was a boy named Chad. We knew each other from the beginning. We both went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school. We became especially close during our middle school years. Chad and I were unlikely friends in many ways. Physically, we looked very different. He was always a little thicker and more boyish with buzzed dark brown hair and I was the skinny red haired boy with freckles. He enjoyed sports and I did not. He played baseball and was a wrestler for a short period of time. I worked for the high school newspaper and wrote one of my first stories on a wrestling match. He was into student council, but not for the same reasons I was. He really did care, and I did it for social reasons. We were both on the speech team. He did debate and I read poetry. He was religious and conservative and I was raised religious (though always questioned it) and I seem to have been born a liberal even though I think my parents voted Republican until I came out of the closet. But we did share a love of learning and of discussing.
We lived close to each other and spent a good amount of time each day on the school bus. We were probably the only boys that at 13 sat on a bus in rural-ish Indiana discussing abortion, gun laws, and capital punishment. The thing is we rarely agreed, yet we just kept talking and challenging the other to think more deeply. This is how our relationship continued for years. Of course, we also joked around, both loved movies, books, and music, but these discussions were at the heart of our relationship.
In all of those years, I never remember us fighting or getting angry with each other. We spent endless nights going to movies together, driving around town listening to music, or sitting in my basement just talking, which we always did civilly. He was also one of the first people to ever take an interest in my poetry. He would carefully read it and want to talk about it with me.
In the weeks leading up to this election, I've thought a lot about Chad and those years of talking politics with him. We don't talk much anymore. We stayed close through most of college, but then life happens. He's a teacher in Indiana now. He's married and just had his first kid. Clearly, very different from me still.
This current election has been appalling. No one talks about the issues. They just shout at each other or spout endless lies or ideas with no basis for them. People seem to have the impression that you can just say whatever you want without backing it up or paying the consequence. Or if you say something enough, it will magically become true.
Those days and nights of debating with Chad made me a smarter person. I truly believe that. I was always pushed to defend my ideas and to think through them in a thoughtful and respectful manner. I didn't agree with lots of things Chad thought, but I respected him and his convictions.
Today, it is so easy to forget how to have actual conversations with people. The media is clearly at fault, but so is our changing attitudes about how we communicate. The internet has really allowed people to say anything they want to a rather large audience. Anyone can have a blog (I mean really, if I can have one, anyone can). Recently, we've seen the effects that Facebook messages can have, and I see it everyday in my interactions with students as an online instructor. We need to listen more, talk less, and always think. Oh, and read. I always like to plug reading.
No matter what your views are, believe them fully and be able to defend them properly and civilly. I will always be thankful to Chad for helping teach me that and I hope I taught him a thing or two myself.
I would go find a silly photo of us and post it, but I will save us both the embarrassment. That is the civil thing to do.