The Wall Street Journal had a wonderful article today (written by Clare Ansberry) about two next-door neighbors in Pittsburgh who are on opposing sides when it comes to the upcoming Presidential election but still remain the best of friends. It is one of the most uplifting stories I have read in the paper in a while.
Here are some excerpts from the article.
The Mitchells, lifelong Democrats, planted a Joe Biden sign in the front yard of their suburban Pittsburgh home. The Gateses, who live next door and are lifelong Republicans, put a Donald Trump sign in theirs.
Another homemade sign stands in each yard. It reads: “We (Heart) Them” with an arrow pointing to the other house. In the middle of each heart are the words “One Nation.”
The families wanted to send a message: People on opposite ends of the political spectrum can actually like each other and be civil.
The Mitchells—Stuart and Chris—and the Gateses—Bart and Jill—met 14 years ago on their suburban street in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., and quickly bonded. Each couple has three children, roughly the same ages, who often walk to their neighborhood schools together and swim in the Mitchell backyard pool. The families share a love for hockey, the boys playing on the same team and the dads serving on the high school hockey board. When the Pittsburgh Penguins play in the NHL playoffs, Stuart sets up a big screen and projector in his driveway, and the families gather with others to watch.
“Our lives are intertwined,” says Stuart. “We call each other family.”
Although they generally don’t talk about politics, they know where each household stands. When Barack Obama ran for president, Stuart, who is biracial, put a floodlight on a big Obama poster hung on his porch. Both families joked about his “Obama shrine.”
“They are pretty far left and we are pretty far right,” says Jill.
So how do they get along?
They don’t argue. They don’t label each other. They listen to each other’s perspective, look for common ground and recognize that reasonable and good people can reach different conclusions.
“I think it boils down to respect,” says Chris. “We have no desire or illusion that we are going to change them or each other’s minds.”
They also rarely bring up issues that are more divisive than others, like abortion.
The families also look for common ground. Stuart, a banker, and Bart, an accountant, often talk about the economy, its ills and ways to address them. “We have a lot of shared ideas about what is wrong and whose needs need to be addressed,” says Bart. “We differ on the best way to handle it.”
Last month, when school began remotely, the families, who had been in each other’s bubble since the pandemic hit, began eating together every Monday night, taking turns hosting and cooking for six children and four adults.
The more they talked one particular evening, the more disappointed and upset they became about the growing hostility nationally and locally, and the impact it could have on their own children.
“I’m going to make a sign,” Chris recalls saying, one that showed they loved their Trump-supporting neighbors. Jill said she wanted to make one, too, declaring affection for their Biden-supporting neighbors.
Along with making a public statement, they wanted to show their children that people can choose to get along despite their differences. “Our fundamental job as parents is to be a good role model for our children,” says Bart. ”We don’t see them as Democrats. They’re the Mitchells. We know they are good people who live next door. We love them.”
At first, their teenagers were mortified. “They came home and said, ‘Oh my God, Mom. What the heck is this?’” says Chris.
Now Gillian, her 14-year-old daughter, doesn’t mind. “I’m not a voter, but I think people should be mature and not argue all the time or fight. Fighting just leads to more fighting.”
And here is some advice from the Mitchells and the Gateses:
Stuart: Accept that you don’t have to be right. I thought I was right all the time growing up. If you don’t think you have to be right, you listen more.
Chris: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Bart: Recognize that the other person deserves respect. Be willing to consider their opinion.
Jill: Don’t be so quick to judge someone because of the political sign in their yard.
This was a good reminder for me to treat people with respect, no matter their political opinion. I know I have been guilty of thinking differently about people who don’t share my political beliefs. I need to focus more on what we have in common than where we have differences.
We are fortunate to have many great neighbors, but I tend to avoid talking about political issues with them. That’s probably for the best, but on those occasions when we do drift into discussing politics I just need to think more like the Mitchells and Gateses, and not try to change their mind or worry that they are trying to change mine, but just find common ground and respect their opinions.