I’m thankful for people who disagree with me

By Matthew Gagnon

For conservatives in Maine this Thanksgiving, it can be fairly hard to see much to be thankful for given that November’s election saw a complete wipeout of Republican prospects statewide.

Fortunately for me, I’ve never really judged my own fortunes on the results of political campaigns and elections. I’m going to be 42 years old in a couple weeks, which means I will have now lived through at least a dozen (probably more) elections deemed “the most important election of our lives.” 

A lot of those have gone poorly for the people I thought should win, much as it did this year, leaving me disappointed and often worried about the direction of this state and the country. But I recognize that despite what those shouting at us from both sides of our modern political food fight would have you believe, it’s going to be OK.

The reason I believe that has a lot to do with my reason for giving thanks this year. When the turkey and gravy are being passed around my dinner table and I’m asked the question, I will say with great sincerity that I am grateful for friendships with people who are nothing at all like me. 

We live in a society today where division is obviously increasing, and growing more bitter. Associating yourself with people you disagree with, people who have a different political affiliation than you, or people who have an entirely different worldview is not something a lot of people feel comfortable doing anymore.

Yet these are things I sincerely value and have made an active attempt to seek out.

One of my best friends from college is a Democrat, and we’ve maintained a friendship over the years. When we talk, the phrase “well, I know you probably don’t see it the same way, but…” is often uttered by one of us, which is something both of us rather enjoy. I greatly benefit from hearing his point of view, as he does mine because it helps us to understand the psychology of those who think differently than us.

In recent years I’ve also been fortunate enough to make a number of friends in my community who are left of center. I say “fortunate” genuinely, because their presence has measurably added to the quality of my life, and my enjoyment of it.

One of the people I was fortunate enough to get to know this year was U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who was kind enough to come on my radio program and speak with me on a number of occasions. This is admittedly not an easy thing for a left-of-center politician to do, particularly in an election year. Having those conversations didn’t change my political opinions or voting preferences, but I greatly valued and appreciated the respect, honesty and openness that came from those interactions, and it has left me a lot less disappointed that he won, even if I would’ve voted for Bruce Poliquin.

Why are these types of relationships so valuable? Because for all the differences I see, those who disagree with me tend to be good people who want most of the same things that I want. They want strong communities to live in, quality schools that their kids go to, a healthy life, protection from crime and disorder, and economic opportunity for themselves and their families.

So they think that the way to get there is different than what I think. So I believe that the evidence proves me right, and them wrong. None of that matters much to me if I see people that care and want to make things better.

In a world where our elite media and the partisan vultures of both extremes demand that we forget each other’s basic humanity and the things we have in common, it can be a hard thing to ignore. When the activists try to drive us apart, and insist that we see each other as the enemy so that they can benefit from our being at each other’s throats, it can be irresistible to respond by seeking comfort in our tribe.

But we should resist that impulse. This year, when I am not going to get much of what I want from my government, I am thankful that I have many good friends who are nothing at all like me. 

And I’m also thankful that I live in a country and a state that will allow me another chance to maybe get what I want next time.

Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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