DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m one member of a group of six longtime neighbors -- 35+ years, all men, ranging in age from 65 to 78. We take turns scheduling a monthly breakfast or dinner outing so we can meet up, enjoy a good meal and maybe a drink.
So far, we’ve been doing this for over five years with very good success -- despite the fact that, politically, we are in two camps (we don’t discuss religion). However, one member of our group has taken to wearing his red, pro-president hat whenever we meet. And this same person can be quick-tempered and defensive.
For me, this hat is very offensive for all it stands for, and it’s also a sort of an in-your-face insertion of politics. He also claims to be quite religious, reminding us repeatedly about how he holds Bible studies at his house.
I’ve rehearsed multiple ways that I could address this at our outings, but no amount of rehearsing makes me think that a blowout wouldn’t ensue. I’d like to stay with the group and not lose a long-term relationship with him, nor with anyone else who chooses to take sides. I don’t want it to become a “what side are you on” type of outcome.
GENTLE READER: These days, there are people on every side of every issue who feel as you do about avoiding controversy.
The problem is usually ascribed to partisanship, a description Miss Manners finds unilluminating. The problem is not that you and your friend have a strong disagreement; it is that you do not know how, or when, to put aside your differences.
While you were growing up, she hopes that your parents warned you not to speak about religion or politics in certain social settings because it would tear the group (or family) apart.
Whether your friend’s hat leaned right or left, he would no doubt protest that a hat is not speech. The Supreme Court would, with some reason, call that rank hypocrisy.
Of course he has the right to form his own political opinions. But he has violated the tacit agreement not to introduce politics into your social setting.
How do you restore peace? Search out a member of the group who agrees with your friend politically, but with you on the desire to keep the group going. If you can convince that person that introducing politics will end the friendships, then he may be able to convince your hat-toting friend.