The Green Bay Packers played the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, last Sunday.
While the game was less than thrilling (the Packers won easily), another scene caught the attention of fans.
As the action of the field slowed, broadcasters decided to pan the stadium looking for famous people in attendance. As they found several prominent individuals, one particular scene seemed out of place.
Former President George W. Bush was watching the game with comedian Ellen DeGeneres. The camera caught them chatting and laughing, as though they were two old friends with more commonalities than differences.
Viewers quickly reacted to the odd couple. For many, it was strange and disturbing to see a conservative Republican and liberal icon, acting as though they were close friends.
Both conservatives and liberals attempted to make sense of the scene, but one group got more offended than any other. LGBTQ advocates criticized Ellen for sitting with the former president, citing his record on gay rights.
However, after the criticism, DeGeneres defended her friendship with Bush. On her show, she stated, “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK.”
The comedian continued, “When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone. Doesn’t matter.”
Both DeGeneres and Bush have a long history of practicing what they preach. Bush’s relationship with former First Lady Michelle Obama has been seen as a beacon of hope for a divided country.
Relationships, like Bush-DeGeneres and Bush-Obama, will continue to receive plenty of criticism based upon differing ideologies and political dissent.
Unfortunately, a growing populace seems to believe they can only associate with like-minded people.
Writing to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson declared, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Jefferson practiced his saying, as he was a lifelong pen pal with his most bitter political opponent, John Adams.
Even more so, Jesus received plenty of criticism for befriending sinners, outcasts and enemies.
In his Sermon on the Mount, he explained the outlook. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Jefferson and Jesus knew the reality of disagreements and enemies, yet both made a conscious decision to live with an open door for conversation and friendship.
While no one should ever betray their conscience to maintain the illusion of friendship, honest and genuine attempts should be made to treat others with grace and kindness.
As Bush and DeGeneres demonstrated this week, political disagreement does not mean we must disregard each other’s humanity.
An argument could be made that the more we disagree with someone, the more we need to work at honoring his or her humanity.
Why? If we begin to slip down the road of dehumanizing political opponents and ideological enemies, we will lose our humanity along the way.
We must remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The road of violence starts with the steps of abandoning conversation and dehumanizing other people. This path makes it very easy to stop talking to each other and start talking about each other.
Engaging in conversation with your enemies is difficult work. Learning to debate and discuss conflicting issues without losing sight of each other’s humanity can be challenging.
Still, we must be willing to make this necessary exercise to advance the common good.
Let’s follow in the footsteps of George and Ellen as we attempt to make this world a kinder and more peaceful place to live.
Political opponents do not always have to be enemies; given the chance and putting in the hard work can turn enemies into friends.