In my twenties, I was part of a group of friends who were united by shared tastes and interests, you know, the usual things that make people like each other. But one characteristic probably tied us together more than anything: humor. We were a bunch who spent most of our time together laughing. And it wasn’t just timid giggles. These were often those great belly laughs, the sort where we couldn’t stop and we literally had tears streaming from our eyes.
United like we were, in history and humor, it was unsettling when two of our number threw their long-term friendship away over a stupid toaster. You might say, well, that wasn’t a very good friendship in the first place if that’s all it was worth. If you said that, you’d be wrong. The problem was one of principle where each of them believed with religious fervor that they held the moral high ground, thereby giving them license to practice a ridiculous stubbornness the crankiest mule would envy.
Over a stupid five-dollar toaster.
My two bull-headed chums had been good friends forever when they decided to be roommates. It was a platonic friendship and, like I already described, it was a solid relationship, built with a lot of humor and not given to drama or hyperbole. That’s why it was a surprise when they fought over the toaster after one of them eventually decided to move out. There was no issue, circumstances had presented him with an opportunity — the friendship was as good as ever. As good, that is, until each claimed ownership of that sad, crumb-filled, kitchen countertop appliance.
As neither of them was willing to budge, the issue of the toaster became a lofty matter of principle on which they could neither agree nor yield. When the proverbial unstoppable force meets the immovable object, friendships fail and, if I remember correctly, toasters get thrown off high-rise balconies. The toaster no longer mattered — now it was strictly principle.
Ah, yes, principle.
The county in which I live is currently experiencing the second of two bitter recall elections, characterized by abundant animus and vitriol.
In the first, two conservative members of the Newberg School District Board were subject to an aggressive recall campaign by progressives. Look across the country and you’ll see dozens of school districts and school boards wrestling with the same issues as Newberg. None of them are pretty fights.
In the second recall, a Yamhill County commissioner is waiting out the final week of what is arguably the most determined and disciplined recall campaign I have ever witnessed. Again, the issues separating the conservative commissioner from the progressive recall campaigners against her are many of the same issues causing screaming matches and fistfights across the U.S.: masks, vaccines, guns, feel free to add your own.
The issues separating Americans from one another are the same issues at play here in my county. Sadly, I know an alarming number of people who have “lost friends” over these recall elections. And that’s where the toaster comes in.
Is it really worth it to cut friends loose over a school board member? Or a county commissioner? Are we getting so uptight that we now require our friends to support the same school board members? Or county commissioners?
Sure, I get it that larger issues loom behind singular board members, whether they be school boards or boards of commissioners. Toasters, too. When it comes to matters of principle, we’re increasingly making them deal-breakers.
In the climate of polarization permeating American discourse today, it’s more important than ever that we preserve our ability to talk civilly with “them.” In other words, it’s crucial we remain able to have a polite conversation with people who don’t see things exactly as we do.
Make no mistake, we’re losing this ability.
As I’ve declared before and will declare again, some of the best friends of my life have been the people with whom I disagreed the most. Does this mean either of us sacrificed our morals in order to be friends with the other? Of course not. Our friendships were based on everything we had in common, not the few things on which we disagreed.
But, I’ll tell you, as someone who enjoys lively debate, having friends who disagree can make for very entertaining discussions. If you don’t like that sort of thing, there’s no reason you can’t simply do the “we’ll agree to disagree” thing, where you both simply agree to avoid discussing whatever separates you. See? That’s a matter of agreement right there!
It’s not worth throwing friendships away over school boards or county commissioners.
Photocollage © 2022 Sara Julie via Unsplash