Crossing Boundaries: A Small Meditation on Friendship, or at Least Familiarity

There’s an interesting story in Haaretz about how Hitler intervened to protect his former commanding officer who was Jewish.

Such things don’t appear to be all that unusual. People who hate classes of people seem to have no trouble, or little, in liking and even being friends with members of that class whom they personally know.

Pick your other here, Jews, people whose people come from a part of the world yours did not, gays, political opponents… you know this list is long.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. And sometimes that’s true. My preferred version is “no man is a hero to his valet.” So, getting to know one another isn’t a universal panacea.

But it also reveals connections, and with those connections empathy, and if one isn’t careful, friendship.

And lord knows what happens if our circle of friends gets too wide.

Although this doesn’t really appear to be much of a danger.

I read that we in the United States are increasingly living our lives among people ever more like us. The myth of our being a classless society is turning out to be less an aspiration and more a lie, and increasingly Heaven help those who wander out of their territory. In the political realm people who align with the Democratic party tend to live in the same areas, as do people who align with the Republican party. And how many people of another race live in your neighborhood?

I’m not pretending to be above the fray.

On Facebook the vast majority of my some twenty-six hundred “friends” fall roughly into the same part of the political spectrum as I do. And, it is only with difficulty I don’t “defriend” one or another of my few non politically aligned friends after they post something I find offensive.

Well, actually, that list has shrunk. I rarely solicit “friendship” (forgive the scare quotes. I just need to emphasize the limitations of Facebook using friend for connections or acquaintances.) among those with whom I have strong political disagreements, and do feel the urge to defriend following postings about health care or immigration or climate change – I find it extremely hard not to see disagreement here as about people’s motives and character.

But, and this is the critical part: I see how I’m willing to forgive those I’ve come to have a relationship with.

No, this doesn’t mean you have to be friends with every lunatic that appears in front of you. Although there is some kind of “but” that I hope we find when the impulse to cut someone off arises. It may be necessary. But.

Familiarity is a dangerous thing. But not knowing others is even more dangerous.

So, what to do about it…

Chris Rock once observed that there have been changes in how people relate across race. He said most black people have many white friends. And most white people have one black friend.

If you laughed or just chuckled, there’s something inside that suggests one really isn’t enough.

Hitler’s one small act was hardly enough. My how those words fail to convey…


Clearly, at least it seems so to me, we need to push some boundaries here.

A little transgression might be a good thing.

In these dangerous times, pushing boundaries might be all that saves us.

Knowing the other might reveal all sorts of things.

About the other.

About ourselves.

And not all of them unpleasant…

Good luck.

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