Natural Allies

Posted on 2013 February 28


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Women and men make natural allies. Their strengths prop each other up at the weak points. Yet we often think we’re in a “Battle of the Sexes”, where each side thinks the other is somehow bad or wrong and must be outplayed. He doesn’t merely love cars and sports; he “won’t communicate”. She doesn’t simply enjoy romantic movies; she “wimps out”. They aren’t merely different from us; they’re worse.

The same teamwork advantage is available to liberals and conservatives — conservatives are great keepers of the flame of tradition, while liberals are good at opening up new ways of thinking about issues — but instead of honoring these relative assets, we decry the other as bad and wrong, evil or stupid. They aren’t merely different in their world views; they’re sub-human!

We can play this “Allies or Enemies” game with all kind of groups: young/old … Black/White … native/foreign … businessman/worker … artist/scientist … short/tall … fat/skinny.

As our society polarizes more and more, we begin to wonder whether we’ll slide into anarchy, with everyone attacking everyone, like Zombies. But I have an idea — and a question — and they came to me as a result of an incident in my childhood. It involved those natural allies, men and women.

I was fourteen, visiting relatives in a big city one summer. They lived in an old, stately house on a street lined with old, stately trees. We were outside one sunny day, playing a game in the street. Now and then a car would appear, and we’d stop the game and step aside to let it pass. One car — a two-tone convertible, 1950s vintage — motored slowly by, driven by a young man with slicked-back hair; an attractive woman sat in the passenger seat. Impressed by the well-kept, cool car, we waved and shouted: “Love it!” “Wow, that’s great!” The car stopped. The man — who’d clearly done wonderfully detailed work on the vehicle and deserved to be proud of it — stared angrily at us and began to open the door to get out. Hyper-vigilant, he must have mistaken our shouts for insults.

Shocked into silence, we waited. At that moment, the woman in the car reached over and put a hand on the man’s shoulder. She spoke quietly to him. He looked away, then closed the door, put the car in gear, and drove off.

Now, here’s the question: In this often tense and hostile world, why don’t we take advantage of the kind of teamwork that our very differences make possible?

We can simply reach over, touch our counterpart on the shoulder, and whisper, “Hey. It’s okay.”