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Guest Column
Why I need my conservative friends | Column
I value the grace of having a person in my life who tests my assumptions, writes Roy Peter Clark.
We need friends who challenge our views.
We need friends who challenge our views. [ Photo illustration by Ron Borresen ]
Published Feb. 6

There was a character in a Seinfeld episode called the “Bubble Boy,” a nasty comic kid whose medical circumstances made him vulnerable to the slightest infection.

These days it feels like we are all Bubble Boys and Bubble Girls, existing in separate worlds, cut off from the ideological contamination of others. We breathe in only the air that confirms our existing view of the world. We stand by our own beliefs, our own heroes and, it is said, our own set of facts.

The politics of the moment have demonstrated how thought bubbles exist even within our own families. Both sides of the extended Clark family include members who are MAGA Heads and Bernie Bros, church ladies and queer girls, gun nuts and tree huggers.

Roy Peter Clark
Roy Peter Clark

We love each other, even when we don’t like each other. I am overstating it. We actually love each other out of a sense of duty. Often, we find those at the other end puzzling and annoying. “How could they think that?” Truth be told, family members have been “unfriended” on Facebook, but, so far, no rituals of excommunication.

Which is why I am so glad to have a true conservative friend.

His name is Mike Hartigan. He grew up in St. Louis in a middle-class family, played basketball in high school, enlisted in the Navy and studied to become a nurse. I once witnessed him rescue a stranger who had collapsed in a restaurant. He works with a national company on issues of health insurance and worker’s compensation.

Along the way, he teamed up with his wife Deb in creating a small business: K Kringle’s Christmas Shop on St. Pete Beach. It was a glorious place, almost like an art museum, filled with the holiday items my wife Karen would purchase all year round. I joke with Mike that Karen bought enough Christmas stuff in that shop to build a wing on his house.

It was there I learned that Mike liked to golf. He is very good. Over the years, I have seen him make four eagles. He is a good coach, encouraging, funny and helpful. Not a BFF, but a pretty darned good friend. The morning I totaled my PT Cruiser, Mike was first on the scene.

There is no better place to build an enduring friendship than on the golf course. A round takes about four hours, you are outdoors, you can laugh or moan about the quality of play, and you can talk and talk. Over more than a decade, Mike and I have talked and listened to each other about good times and bad, when we have been richer or poorer, when we were sick or healthy — and we’re not even married.

On occasion, we talk about politics.

We honor each other by talking about politics in a particular way. It began with a conversation at a seaside restaurant. We decided to talk about immigration. “I bet we could solve the immigration problem in 10 minutes,” I said. It went something like this:

Roy: “What do you need, Mike, to solve the immigration problem?”

Mike: “I want border security. You can’t be an effective country if you can’t secure your borders.”

Roy: “I’ll work with you on that, Mike. But I don’t want to see a wall across Texas. Some physical barriers might help, but I think we can use technology better, and more agents down there, better trained.”

Mike: “Okay, what do you need on immigration?”

Roy: “I don’t want to see 11 million people deported. That kind of police action would not feel like America to me.”

Mike: “I don’t want mass deportations either, but there are some really bad people who are here illegally.”

Roy: “If there are effective targeted ways to root out criminal elements without targeting large communities of hard-working people, I’m for it.”

Our discourse lasted about eight minutes, and we laughed, and our wives laughed at us, as we patted ourselves on the back with our great skills of compromise.

There is an old bit of wisdom that goes something like this: “You cannot outgrow your own prejudices against a group of people until you come to know just one as a person.”

The more you get to know a person as a person, the harder it is to shove that person into a tight box. You learn the complexities, contradictions and nuances of a person’s deeply held views. You learn the things you have in common.

Mike and I care about our families and have helped each other face difficult personal problems. We believe in hard work and fair play. We want the place where we live to work for everyone. We want the country to work.

As a writer who expresses more than my share of opinions, I value the grace of having a person in my life who tests my assumptions, who shares experiences I know nothing about and who helps me keep in mind, that, hey, I might be wrong.

Roy Peter Clark is a contributing writer. He can be reached at rclark@poynter.org.