I just returned from a family reunion with my father, my two brothers and my sister-in-law. We spent seven days together at a resort in Florida, ate three meals a day at the same table, did activities together each day and sat around and talked each night. As a group we haven’t spent that much time together in 50 years, since my brothers and I were teenagers. It was cathartic. My dad is 90 and my brothers and I are in our late 60s. Our gathering gave my dad a chance to be the patriarch and lead. It gave my brothers time to be bros. And for me it was a tsunami of emotions that challenged my sobriety. I’m coming up on three years sober and drinking remains a persistent itch I want to scratch. A family reunion with three alpha males was the closest I’ve come to violating my abstinence.
I discovered that as a sober person, I am prickly, and, of course, family is friction. In high school I was nicknamed the class arguer, and I still have that reflexive verbosity. Words fly from my lips and land as would the gaseous effluent of a bean-eater in the face of my audience, much to my own satisfaction. It’s a gift. I don’t think about it before it comes out of me. It just happens. I don’t have a built-in filter to protect me from myself, no self-conscious inner voice warning me of the repercussions of my indulgent wit. Then I’m surprised when a person is offended, angry, or hurt. Regardless, give me friction or give me death, to paraphrase Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech.
Friction sharpens my sword. I want to debate the substantive issues of our time. I don’t understand how people expect to solve the big problems of society with rules like No Debate and Cancel Culture. What about Debate Club? I was in Debate Club in high school, and I loved it. Finally, a forum where my natural inclination to rebel could work to my advantage. In Debate Club we listened to our opponent’s argument, took notes on their perspective, and used that information to shape a more effective argument of our own. How can you fight against something you don’t understand because you refuse to learn about it? This puzzles me.
In Florida, I had some big blurts as we sat around the kitchen table talking, five old people who live in very different worlds coming together to celebrate our genetic connection, as though that inclines us to think alike. There were only a few moments of yelling, insult, and injury, but we survived. We love each other. Diversity is fundamental. We need friction. I need friction. Families need friction. We need our differences to improve ourselves. Yes, we’ve all been exhausted by politics and the pandemic, and now, war. But man up, buttercup. Spending all your time with your clones does not make you stronger.
I’m waiting for the TV show where substantive issues are argued by informed citizens in a civilized debate format according to rules enforced by a neutral moderator. I would like it to be a serious game show like Jeopardy with a jury voting on which side made the most persuasive case for their argument. No hate speech, no shouting, no personal attacks, no politics. Just debate whether the answer to a question is yes or no. For example, Should our system for regulating motor vehicles with driver license, vehicle license, VIN number, traffic law, liability insurance, law enforcement and public record keeping be a blueprint for regulating firearms? Yes or No?
Are you triggered? My family was triggered on this topic and others. We don’t agree. We may never agree. But we respect each other. Friction. Democracy is supposed to be a system for managing friction. But here’s the deal. Managing friction begins as home. Handling friction is a life skill I learned from my parents. If a family can’t manage personal friction without imploding, what’s the model for our nation? Don’t fear it, master it. Give me friction.