Buddy System

Understanding men and their friendships.

Obama and McCain as friends

Maybe McCain and Obama can be friends

I can't help feeling, after seeing McCain and Obama trading good-natured barbs at each other and themselves at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner Thursday night, that these guys could actually get along as friends.  Yet I am then drawn back into the reality of the testy exchanges of the third debate the night before.  Then I am drawn to their warm embraces before and after the debates with their families around them.  Then I remember politics makes strange bedfellows and I am aware they were "acting" in both settings - everything is political and scripted.  Still, these two guys can come across as likeable, each in his own way.

 Can guys who are competing against each other be friends outside of the competition? If there is another context for the friendship or for interaction (like the Senate), yes.  If there is no other interaction other than the competition, then it is easier to dislike someone - they become the "other."  They will be faceless and only have the personality of the competition.  Nothing else likeable will be known about them.

The more men learn to reach out to each other, the less they are likely to see each other one-dimensionally, whether it is in sports or in politics.  And the more men know people who are like the competition, the more likely they are to see the multi-dimensionalties of the competition.  For example, let's say I am playing some guy from "across the tracks" or from the other university, factory, or business. I don't know the particular guy I am playing but I know other guys from his context.  If I feel good about those other guys, I am more apt to impute similar qualities to the guy I am playing. McCain and Obama know each other from the Senate and know other Senators.  Let's hope that when the election is over, they could consider a friendship and view this whole election more as theatre than as reality.

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Geoffrey Greif, Ph.D., is a Professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships.

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