OPINION COLUMNS

The unwritten (until now) law of relationships

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, July 12, 2014

If you watch baseball, you’ve seen this.

A batter lets a pitch go by, but the umpire calls it a strike. Sometimes it’s the third strike, and the batter is out.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

A veteran player will generally turn and walk back to the dugout – but you may notice his lips moving, telling the ump he thought the pitch was outside or inside, high or low.

What he’s not doing is “showing him up” – turning to face him, slamming his bat down, yelling and arguing. That will get you thrown out of the game.

This guy is focused on winning, and he will bat again. He may not like the umpire, but he needs a few of those calls to go his way.

He and the umpire have a relationship.

It’s a simple, time-tested principle: Criticize someone if you must, but don’t humiliate them. Don’t ridicule them. Don’t patronize them or talk about their mama.

If you do, chances are you’re burning a bridge you will need to cross again.

The world is full of people you may not like, but may very well need, in order to be successful. You have to work with those people, so grow up and do it.

Take the emotion out of it. Be rational. Pick your battles, and understand they need to win a few, too. And when you deal with them, smile, even if it gives you a little sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

How much better would the world work if people just did this?

Cities, counties, school boards and all the way to state and national government, international diplomacy, churches, marriages, families – all would run more smoothly if people could only learn how to disagree without being so … disagreeable.

In his book, The Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis told of President Ronald Reagan’s meeting with Mikhail Gorbachov in October 1986 in Iceland. Reagan, whose congeniality was as legendary as his distaste for communism, warmly shook the Russian leader’s hand and sat down across the table from him.

“Now,” Reagan said, with a smile on his face, “let me tell you a little about us, and why we don’t trust you.”

Diplomats gasped, but Gorbachev smiled. Reagan’s personality was so cordial that instead of storming out, the Russian leader listened. He responded with candor, and a relationship was born.

These two men never became friends, but over the next several years, their relationship helped end the Cold War. Our world is safer because they were able to work with each other.

This week, our governor finally got a meeting he’s been seeking, with the President of the United States.

Gov. Rick Perry had a legitimate bone to pick with President Obama over border issues.

The problem is, ever since Obama was elected president, Perry and most other Republican politicians, in Texas and elsewhere, have been “showing him up” at every opportunity, riffing on everything from his birth certificate to his name to his wife and kids.

That may elicit laughs from the conservative base, but it’s no way to build a relationship.

Fact is, Barack Obama is a twice-elected President of the United States. Gov. Perry may not like him, appreciate his politics or his methods or his haircut – but Texas would be better off if our governor had at least a working relationship with him.

If I had to name the number-one problem in the world today, the greatest threat to peace and progress, I would go with polarization.

People everywhere are fleeing from the middle to the extremes, refusing to work with or even listen to the other side. Both political parties are guilty.

When you demonize the other person, just remember that’s how it always starts – the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Sunnis and the Shiites, the Hutus and the Tutsis – the conflicts that continue to bring war, violence, death and destruction to this beautiful world started with raised hackles, cold shoulders and closed minds.

Forget terrorists. It should terrify us all to think the United States of America may be on that path.

We can change that. We must. It starts with relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I want to bat again.

Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger.

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