This week I want to talk about human relations and politics. While out shopping the other day with Sally, a book caught my eye. On the cover is a picture of a little monkey hugging a pigeon. The title of the book is Unlikely Friends. In it are 47 stories of how animals, mostly natural enemies, became friends. There’s the African elephant and the sheep, the black bear and the cat, the bobcat and the deer, the owl and the dog, the snake and the hamster, and even the rat and the cat.
Most of these relationships were built in captivity – like in a zoo setting or some sort of animal refuge – but not all. Several of these friendships were built in raw nature. The author, who works for National Geographic, writes that “often biologists can point to an obvious benefit to one or both animals related to spotting predators, keeping parasites at bay, staying warm, [or] finding food.” She says these you-scratch-my-back, I’ll scratch-your-back friendships can be common in the animal kingdom. What’s not so common are the unexplainable – she calls them “a little less tidy” – relationships. The sort of relationships that seem to built upon true friendship, sharing and compassion. In other words, almost human relationships.
I got to thinking that there’s probably not a better human analogy than politics to the raw instincts of the animal kingdom. Politics-as-usual is based on survival of the fittest as much as any Darwinian dream could be. It’s often a zero-sum game of winners and losers, especially campaign politics, much like a cheetah running down a zebra.
Politics has its herds and packs. We call them political parties. Inside those herds, stronger specimens vie for power and leadership and each member of the herd inevitably relies upon the group for protection. We often see Republicans fight among themselves, as do Democrats, only to turn around united against the opposing party. Sometimes the intra-party struggles can be vicious. Think of two massive heavyweights in the walrus community fighting for domination. Now think of two larger-than-life politicians fighting for the crown of a Senate seat or governorship. It’s awful to watch but it’s ultimately the way things get settled in nature, whether we’re referring to the nature of African jungles or politics.
And then there are a few exceptions to the rule such as the ones described in the book Unlikely Friends. Politics creates unlikely friends too. Not enough gets spoken about how politicians are often very good friends even as they differ in opinions. Much has been written about the friendship that developed between Senator Orrin Hatch and the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Now I don’t know anything about their friendship other than what I’ve heard, but I can tell you, after spending many years in politics, such friendships occur.
Here in Utah, I have many good friendships with people who disagree with me most of the time. Sometimes we agree. It’s in those instances of agreement that good friendships have a moment of grace to be formed. We share common goals and compassion for one another. They’re moments I cherish, frankly, because the other moments, unfortunately – where we’re scratching and clawing at each other – seem to be the norm in politics. And that’s a shame.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.