Politics as a forum for friendship
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this magazine, had great confidence in the ability of a higher humanity to draw us together.
About a year ago I came across an astounding idea relative to politics. It was in a speech given by Václav Havel, a leading figure in the “Velvet Revolution” that propelled Czechoslovakia to independence from the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Havel, serving as the newly liberated country’s president, suggested that politics should be a forum for the practice of friendship.
Politics a forum for friendship? Is that even possible?
In my own life, friendship and politics have gone hand in hand since the 1970s. I have a close circle of high school friends from different racial and cultural backgrounds, and one of our preferred activities over the decades since high school has been talking politics. We all know one another’s perspectives on the role of government, national policies, what the private sector should be doing, etc., and while our discussions have at times been heated and haranguing, they have also often been humorous. But in the end, we’re all better for our time together, for having informed one another and sharpened one another’s arguments. Sometimes we’ve even changed one another’s points of view. Would we ever let our political discussions negatively affect our friendships? Not on your life! Why not? Because we value our friendships more than we value our political perspectives.
In a national example, in the 1980s the Canadian House of Commons had a vocal member of Parliament from the Official Opposition who did her best to make life miserable for the party in power. She particularly tussled with a government minister who was famous for his frankness, colorful language, and willingness to get into a brawl of words with anyone, especially someone from the opposition. But during their time in office, and especially after, a funny thing happened. These “natural” political enemies became friends. Their offices were close, and the two politicians interacted cordially. After both had retired from politics but were still active in public life, their friendship became fast, and they visited each other and their families. I doubt that they ever agreed on much in terms of public policy, but they didn’t let that stand in the way of their friendship and mutual respect.
A retired environmentalist friend of mine who served in Parliament makes a simple observation on how to improve the political system: Change the seating in the House of Commons so that members don’t just sit with their own party but are mixed with members from other parties. He’s confident that after 15 minutes, all the members would be showing the person sitting next to them pictures of their children and grandchildren, the big fish they caught on vacation, and so on. In short, the common humanity of the members, no matter what their political party, would transcend their differences and transform the House in a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship.
I think that’s what Havel may have had in mind when he talked about friendship in politics: a brother-and-sisterhood that surpasses the issues of the moment, however pressing they seem, and a humanity that can inform our decisions on those very issues.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this magazine, had great confidence in the ability of a higher humanity to draw us together. She wrote, “The cement of a higher humanity will unite all interests in the one divinity” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 571 ).
Some years ago, that idea was the basis of my prayers to resolve a local community issue. A federal agency that owns a lot of land in our historic neighborhood decided to install a tall, industrial-
style fence behind our homes, which back up to a narrow park on a river. Whereas formerly we could walk through our yards to the park, now we were set to lose the easy access that we had always enjoyed.
Some of the homeowners quickly organized a campaign of letter writing and lobbying. And each of us was asked to be ready to contribute five hundred dollars to a legal fund, should a lawsuit become necessary.
When I attended the meeting of owners, I saw that I could contribute best by quietly praying. My starting point was that there is one governing God, one divine Mind, and that each person was the full, constant expression of that intelligent Mind, whether they were thinking in terms of God or not. I tried to think of the higher humanity—you could even say the spirit of friendship—that could unite the community, including the federal agency, homeowners, and all users of the park. It occurred to me that there was something that all stakeholders had in common: the desire to improve the quality of life for everyone. I saw this common desire as an unvoiced prayer that would promote respect and flexibility and harmonize different approaches, moving everyone forward
in this common bond.
And that is what happened. The homeowners did write letters, and the agency received them respectfully, despite its track record of unresponsiveness to community input. The outcome was that homeowners were given some choices in the fence design, as well as the option to purchase gate access to the park if they wished. Everybody was happy, and the beautiful park continues to be widely used by many, from both within and outside the neighborhood. The ideas that brought resolution to this local issue illustrate how answers may be found to larger problems.
The idea that there is one governing God, one governing Mind, is fundamental to the teachings of Christian Science. The prayerful affirmation that there is one Mind doesn’t mean papering over human opinions or tolerating extreme ones, or that everyone thinks the same thoughts or reasons the same way. But it does have a way of lessening self-will, softening reactions, and deflating rhetoric so that commonalities and solutions can emerge.
Jesus talked about taking the “beam” out of one’s own eye before trying to take the “mote,” or speck, out of the eye of another (see Matthew 7:5 ). Cultivating and expressing Godlike qualities, such as humility, stillness, and patience, often allows us not only to feel better about ourselves but also to see a brother, a sister, or a neighbor the way God sees him or her—as God’s spiritual image and likeness. This uplifting of our thought to God’s point of view, to seeing what we all truly are as His children, brings healing and makes better our own character and that of others. Practicing the Golden Rule—doing unto others as you would wish them to do unto you—is central to the practical ethics of Jesus (see Matthew 7:12 ) as well as to many other religious and ethical systems. And this brings greater civility and respect to political discussions, whether between friends or on a national level.
It’s normal that there be different views about how to solve problems and advance society. And sometimes political opinions are so extreme as to inflame anger, fear, and seemingly irreparable division. But the more we let the divine Mind inspire and guide us, the more those extremes are subdued, the more there is a coming together behind ideas that are truly inspired, and the more we experience friendship and our common humanity.