Washingtonians Strive For Diplomacy In Personal Politics


I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today's show is all about diplomacy. And unlike the people we met before the break, the individuals we'll hear from next don't work in an embassy or for the Foreign Service. No, these folks are engaging in diplomacy of a more everyday sort. The type you might employ with friends, colleagues or family members of opposing political stripes. Jonathan Wilson has the story.


Richard Crespin had heard his potential business partner, Joiwind Ronen, was pretty darn liberal. And so when they met for the first time, he tried to tone down his own admittedly conservative look.


You know, it's funny. I actually dressed slightly differently, you know, as not to put it off right away. And I did try to steer clear and try to find issues where I thought we might have some common ground before jumping in to, you know, actually debate her in any way.


While she may have appreciated his sensitivity, Joiwind -- she says her name came from hippie parents -- doesn't remember thinking Richard had toned down anything about his clothing.


I was immediately shocked. I thought, you know, here's someone I want to partner with and he is as preppie and Republican as they get. Are we going to be able to find common ground?


The perfectly named liberal, Joiwind, and Richard, the conservative, found enough common ground. They've been business partners for years after all, promoting corporate environmental responsibility. And even as they discovered more political differences, the two say their relationship has deepened as they've bonded over other things such as both having young children. Ronen says one key to dealing with each other is laughter.


We'll cast each as, you know, the diabolical Republican and the, you know, extreme liberal, so when I have a question about conservatives I call Richard. And when he has a question about the liberals he calls me. And so we really find humor in our relationship. And we remember not to take each other too seriously.


For Sue Gainor and Scott Murdock, learning to deal with their political differences wasn't quite so easy. Part of the issue is, well, they're married. Their differing views also came as a bit of a surprise -- to one of them, at least. Luckily they can laugh about it, but it took a while.


So I'd say it was probably the Clinton administration that really, you know, brought it to a head. And I knew how avid she was and I went, oh, it won't be a good conversation if I tell her.


I thought we were in lockstep until some months after the election he informed me he had not voted for Clinton. And I had assumed all the while, because we agreed on certain things that I was very active about and he had shared my activism, that we had voted the same and we had not.


You know, the elections happened and Clinton won but then, you know, we were discussing amongst friends of who voted for who and, you know, I felt I should be honest. We just didn't talk about it. And I said, you know, I didn't vote for Clinton. And she was pretty irritated.


Gainor says she stayed mad for a few months but eventually got over it. Now she says she's learned not to assume that her husband is passionate about something just because she is. And she says they've both learned when a political argument has become more trouble than it's worth. But Gainor hesitates to draw any comparisons between her marital relationship and what lawmakers on Capitol Hill have to endure.


There's very little in the interaction, day-to-day, that politicians can learn from a couple like us. Because the stakes are different for them. And for us, the stakes are harmony in the household, and harmony among our friends. In fact, for his birthday, which was last week, we had a dinner with three other couples. One of them very far to the right, and one of them we refer to as the neighborhood hippies. And it was really enjoyable because we just avoided political conversation as a general rule.


That's not a luxury elected officials have. Bob Gibson, director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, says political civility is at a generational low.


It used to be that congressmen and delegates and senators could go out after work and talk to each other and have dinner and drinks and understand each other better.


Gibson says that's changed in part because we're in an era of permanent campaigning and elected officials don't feel they have time to socialize with their opponents. But Gibson says political civility can make a comeback. And he believes it can be a grassroots effort.


There doesn't have to be a magic moment at which the country turns around. It can be an individual one-on-one thing in which people just take the time to listen. Mostly it's listening and understanding the other side and that we have plenty in common with people we don't agree with. We just have to find it.


To recap, elected officials listen a little more and laugh a little more, too. All right, so maybe it can't be that simple -- can it? I'm Jonathan Wilson.


This story came to us via WAMU's Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share their experiences with us and a way for us to reach out for input on stories we're working on. You can find more information about the Public Insight Network by visiting
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