I recently had the great pleasure of reconnecting with a former student of mine who graduated from WIU in 1989. Todd was a memorable student. He was one of an elite group of undergraduates to be chosen for an internship with the U.S. Supreme Court, and went on to an outstanding legal career.
We couldn’t be more different. Todd grew up in rural Illinois and is a direct descendant of Abraham’s Lincoln’s grandfather; his mother’s family has been in America since 1617. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and my grandparents were immigrants from Norway and Italy. We’re from different generations. We chose different paths in our legal careers. He was, and remains, a conservative. I am a lifelong liberal.
We’ve debated law, politics, religion and culture. The legal conversations are the best, because neither of us needs to explain any legal theories to the other. We cross-examine each other the way only lawyers love to do, analyzing each part of an argument, citing court cases and suggesting alternative paths.
The political, religious and cultural conversations have not been as easy as the legal conversations. In one of our early conversations, he assumed I believed in no regulations of any kind on immigration. I assumed he believed in no regulations of any kind on guns. We were both wrong. We have been able to express our beliefs with respect for each other. We even can make jokes and laugh about our differences. Occasionally, we change sides in a debate, which surprises both of us.
Because of our different political beliefs, Todd has challenged me to examine some of my positions to make sure they are logical and grounded in facts. I can’t rely on thinking “Oh well, I’ve always felt this way”. Talking with him has made me a better listener because I respect him and want to understand how we can reach opposite conclusions about the same set of facts. Doing that – reaching opposite conclusions about the same set of facts – is surprisingly easy. Getting to opposite sides seems to be based more on our different life experiences than on our politics.
Todd and I agree that we each have learned a great deal from the other. For example, I’ve explained the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace to him; he has explained trade wars and tariffs to me. I answer his questions about criminal law and procedure; Todd answers mine about real estate and corporations. I talk about the importance of women’s reproductive rights, he talks about the importance of historical events.
We’ve left the student-teacher relationship in the past and have become friends, talking about our families, our dogs and our gardens. But the best part of renewing this connection is knowing that two people with so many differences can find common ground; that we can have discussions and maintain our beliefs without anger or personal attacks. The best part is that we chose to reject the national trend and refuse to be enemies because of politics.
Gayle Carper is a member of the Macomb City council and she’s a retired attorney and retired Professor of Law at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.