November 10, 2013

Partying with Right-Wingers. ~ Kathryn E. Livingston

With it being election season and all, I’ve been thinking of a phrase I often hear in yoga circles: “Like-minded people.”

I’m attracted to the idea of like-minded people because frankly, it makes life easier. It’s a lot more pleasant to sit around with folks who are vegetarians, peaceniks and believe in climate change than to hang out with NRA proponents who drink the Tea Party Kool-Aid while cutting their (un-organic or cruelly-raised) beefsteaks and proclaiming in loud voices that Ronald Reagan was our greatest president, with George Bush following as a close second.

As a vegetarian, yoga-loving peacenik myself, I’m in my bliss when I’m surrounded by my like-minded yogi friends. But not all my friends are like that. A good portion of my friends are right-wingers. Many are meat eaters. Some own (and shoot) guns. They don’t support unions. Some drink a lot, smoke and don’t even believe that the Polar bears are in danger. They call me a “liberal” and wonder why I believe in national healthcare.

So, why would I want to hang out with such people? Surely, it’s easier to surround myself with folks who are just like me. Surely, it’s easier for all of us to be with people who agree with us, who don’t challenge us, who don’t “give us agita” (as we say in Jersey), who eat seeds, nuts, drink smoothies and herbal teas, who do headstands and say Namaste and Sat Nam and Om.

Why would any yogi in his or her right mind want to be with individuals who seem hell-bent on harming the planet (and themselves)? How could a beer-guzzling (or even a red-wine-sipping), climate-change-denying right-winger be anything at all like you or me?

The answer, quite simply, is that they are people just like us. Yes, I know, they don’t vote like us. But they bleed, cry and fear just like we do. What about Dick Cheney? Well, that may be pushing it (though he does have a new heart, so maybe…).

I’ll tell you a story about what happened to one of my right-wing friends as he was driving to work one day. In his path was a tiny, abandoned kitten—the size of a mouse—in the middle of the road. My friend stopped traffic, jumped out of his car, brought this creature home, took it to the vet, nurtured and raised it. How could this be? Another of my right-winger friends visited me loyally when I was going through a health crisis, bringing flowers, food and hugs. One routinely cooks for and feeds the homeless.

Yes, I know…these little examples aren’t enough to excuse those who vote against their own (as well as the rest of our) best interests in every election. But what fascinates me is the realization that these people, who are clearly not like-minded friends, can still be like-hearted.

My fun-loving right-wing friends (and relatives) often have me in stitches. They’re loyal as hell. They argue and disagree with me but not in a disparaging way. They love animals (well, their pets, anyway) and their kids.

Yes, it often tries my patience to be around them (especially at election time). But sometimes I feel as if some of my comments actually sink in. If I stayed away from these pals, if I never expressed my opinions, they would have only themselves and Fox 5 to listen to. I am the thorn in their side—their liberal, seed-eating, chamomile-tea-swilling yogi friend who just won’t shut up.

Do I think I can change them? No, not really. But occasionally I can make them think and wonder. I can inspire them, once in a while, to question themselves.

I love my like-minded, liberal, yogi friends and I would surely go crazy without them. But as yogis of the world, our power and our message is even stronger when we don’t isolate. Go to yoga class, nurse chia shakes, shun alcohol, drugs and cigarettes (but not sex, of course!) and never say a negative word if you can.

But also spend some time with folks who love red meat and hard liquor, who hate unions, deny that Global Warming exists and think Obama is a “socialist.” Only then will we really learn to open our hearts—not just to like-minded people but to all.

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{Photo via donkeyhotey on Flickr Creative Commons}

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