I Keep My Friends Close, But…

There is a photo in my office that takes people aback every now and then.  “Is that who I think it is?” some folks ask.

“Yes.  It is.  I keep my friends close, but my enemies closer.”

This is a phrase I have thought about a lot of late.  I think about it every time Donald Trump announces another one of his cabinet posts.

A man who has railed against public housing as the head of the Housing and Urban Development – our very own Dr. Ben Carson.  An attorney general who has worked to quash the enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency as….the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.  And the CEO of the biggest oil company in the world (ExxonMobil), and noted Russian wheeler and dealer, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State.

This is not new.  Incoming Presidents used to clean house all the time back in the day.  Thomas Jefferson pretty much threw out all the Federalists in 1801.  Andrew Jackson entered in 1825 and jettisoned everybody.

This isn’t a knock at Trump.  It’s a knock at the practice of wanting to surround yourself with people who think and act like you do.  And it’s easier to do than ever these days.

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The onslaught of choice is supposed to be a good thing.  As network and cable TV and media has quickly splintered into a multitude of streaming services, social media, youtube series, etc., advocates of that approach laud the access to different programming as a major benefit to the consumer.  The mere ACCESS to alternate programming means that people will venture to all sorts of different shows, different media, different opinions.  It sounds good in theory.  But there’s a dark side emerging from this utopia of endless choice.

Many, many people don’t proactively seek out various perspectives.  They end up searching for and sticking with perspectives that they agree with.  Why watch liberal media when you have Fox News, and vice versa?  Why should I waste my time listening to some blow hard talk about pollution when our state is poised to reap the benefits of hydraulic fracturing?

Because of all the different programming available, you no longer “have to deal with” people who think differently than you do.  You can tune into the folks with whom you side and the world is all of a sudden a much better, easier, more agreeable place to be.

That’s scares the crap out of me.

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Politics is much more intricate and complicated than I will probably ever comprehend.  But I can’t help think (in my ignorant, naïve way) that if I were elected to some position of power, I would want to surround myself with people who think differently than I do.  Instead of going on a victory tour through the states that won me the election, I’d want to go on a tour of the states in which I got crushed and sit down with people and ask them why?  What am I not seeing?  Why do you oppose my opinions and views so vehemently?  Give me real life examples.  Tell me how you, your family, your friends, or your job has been affected?  Let me see what you see.  Let me feel how you feel.

Some of the best and most enlightening conversations I have at work are with people who think differently than I do.  How else do you try different things unless you embrace and respect the opinions of those who yin when you yang?

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Maybe the “friends” and “enemies” labels are a bit harsh to explain what I mean here.  I don’t consider as enemies people who think differently than me.  But it is a nice, gift-wrapped expression to convey what I mean.  Vito and Michael Corleone knew it.

The more you know….especially about those who think differently or oppose you…the better prepared and well-rounded you can become.  And if you have an open mind….who knows…maybe you will start to change your mind about some long-held beliefs.  In today’s world, that’s a big “IF.”

I found this online tonight.  It attempts to explain what “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” means.  I think it does a nice job of objectively summarizing it:

…why would you keep an enemy closer than a friend? Generally speaking, knowledge. The closer an enemy is to you, the more intimately you will come to know their capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, tendencies etc. You can use this knowledge to your advantage. A close enemy is also one you’re privy to the whereabouts of, so you’re much less likely to be caught off-guard.

At another level, an enemy has much—if not more—to teach you about yourself. Superficially, your own capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies will emerge more prominently in the presence of an enemy, and this serves as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Even deeper, you can learn from the very animosity and opposition which exists between you and your enemy. We can choose to reflect upon why we are enemies with the person in the first place—does it all boil down to a misunderstanding? Am I prejudiced? Not only can we benefit by having our beliefs and capabilities challenged by opposition, but as we develop our understanding of an enemy, we may experience a shift in our regard for them. We may begin to view an enemy with less antagonism, and perhaps in time even come to know them as a friend.

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The photo I have in my office is of me and Jerome Bettis from a conference last summer.  He’s actually a decent guy.  The hardest hit he ever took in his Hall of Fame career came at the hands (and considerable girth) of Sam Adams.

In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher — Dalai Lama

 

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