I received an email yesterday on my website, lisabirnbach.com, from a fellow who feels the bond of connection through my understanding of him and his family; (he says I explained them well in The Official Preppy Handbook). He wanted to share an observation, which I’d like to pass along to you.
(And here is his exact text)
“Two strangers with radically opposing political viewpoints can meet at a charged political event and instantly feel like long lost friends and drop the hatred IF they are both preps. I have seen it happen a lot. It is curious that left wing Democrat preps and right wing Republican preps can be great friends. It is the common prep experience that allows this to occur.”
Readers, do you agree with his opinion? I certainly think this is a moment so dramatically fraught that I’ve seen couples, lifelong friends, and family members take oaths to not discuss politics since, oh, November, 2016 in order to keep the peace.
“Oh you know Baxter… he’s a Fascist, but I love him!”
I also believe that when two strangers have a common experience it is a lot easier to find a middle ground. They are less threatening; you, as my correspondent informed me, know them.
The letter writer suggested that preppies can get along with one another because we’re all snobs and elitists – so perhaps he meant we only get along with one another, whatever our politics.
I’m going to suggest the opposite. I’m a believer in warmth and openness, so I will suggest that the experience of shared preppiness – particularly if you ever lived in a dorm – can actually grow your native friendliness. Why not be positively primed towards someone new? (I know; there are a million reasons. And I haven’t been in the most sparkling mood myself, lately, either.) But to see one’s privilege as an entitlement from birth? That’s vulgar. Let’s take nothing for granted. Fortunes come and go. Unfortunately, so does good health. So I recommend gratitude whenever you can muster it. (Trendy, I know.)
People we know – even people we love – can fall under the spells of witch doctors, gurus, maniacal therapists, and controlling partners. We read stories about these emotional kidnappings every day. (Long ago, I received a letter from a close friend telling me that she believed our friendship was unhealthy for her. I was devastated. I didn’t know how to answer her. In my frequent rehashing of our final exchanges before this letter, I couldn’t come up with anything that was offensive, nor anything that had changed in our interactions. Her wording was stiff. Some friends thought it was a kind of form letter enforced by a quasi-religious cult. And writing this now, I realize it’s been probably 25+ years since then, and we haven’t had a shared moment; not a Facebook memory, not a reunion siting, not a stroke of “isn’t that?” at the Metropolitan Museum.)
Look, it’s hard to know even the people you know. I am continually surprised by people I think I know. My Exhibits ™ keep surprising me in ways I could not predict. The rate of change is causing changes that predictors could not have predicted. (Old School Lisa Tangent here: I lament the absence of human telephone operators and human customer service clerks. I know that within five years the huge job force that makes up taxi, Lyft, Uber, and other local car services will be out of work. People need jobs!! Not just American-born people; all people.)
So for the time being, let’s try to keep the guardrails down, and the conversation flowing.