Why Can’t We Be Friends?


While attending a meeting of a coalition of groups that have been working together for about two years to improve the health and safety of the neighborhoods in the city of Syracuse, I was confronted with the quote you see above, the meeting facilitator had printed it out on a big sheet of newsprint hanging from the easel at the front of the room:

The quote irritated me and when I looked it up later, I was not surprised to see that Lincoln had prefaced the friends remark with the old maxim about catching more flies with honey–a saying that has always pissed me off:

“It is an old and a true maxim, that a ‘drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men.”

The best rejoinder I’ve ever heard to that treacly bunch of nonsense was actually from the sit-com “Big Bang Theory”:

Leonard: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
Sheldon: “You catch even more with manure. What’s your point?”

Interestingly, when you google “friends and Lincoln quotes” the most prevalent quote is similar–but less cloying:

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

That last quote at least acknowledges that everything is not sweetness and light and that people have enemies.

I may be old school, but I’ve never felt the need to befriend the people that oppose the changes I am working to make in our community and our society. The fight for right over wrong isn’t fought by Marquess of Queensberry rules. Etiquette and politeness are values that those with power use to change the subject of the debate from their oppressive actions to the behavior of those challenging their rule.

2 thoughts on “Why Can’t We Be Friends?

  1. Interesting take on it all. I actually understand the quote though. I can’t remember the names right now (I’ve reached that age unfortunately) but many years ago there was a story written about two senators whose political ideals were totally opposite and yet they’d enjoyed a great friendship for over 20 years. The point of the story was that people whose values might seem different aren’t always so, just their delivery ideas are different.

    In a great way I’m a lot like you. I don’t go out of my way to become friends whose values don’t seem to be like mine. However, there are people whose beliefs are like mine but they seem a bit extreme, and I don’t go out of my way to be associated with them either. I treat everyone the same until they show they don’t deserve it; if that’s kept in check by not being extreme in either direction, we can be sympatico. But gaining someone’s respect can make some differences… without Lincoln getting to know Frederick Douglass well, there might have never come the call, with at least the proper conviction, to end slavery.


  2. Hey Mitch,

    Thanks for the shout out re: this post on Twitter. I’ve been thinking a lot about this post since reading your comment (the sign of a great comment BTW!) I guess my point was to emphasize that organizers and social change activists should avoid getting hung up about niceties and focus on the issues.

    This is especially true when groups need to engage in direct action protest to move their issues forward. Nothing brings out the “you shouldn’t be so aggressive, disagreeable, forceful etc.” than protests on the street. But sometimes they are necessary (ie: the “Black Lives Matter” protests of this past year.) People always attempt to shut down protests by focusing on your behavior and its deviation away from middle-class sensibilities. Sometimes, that even comes from within your own ranks.

    But nothing I wrote precludes being a person and being willing to have dialogue with others. Just don’t allow people to derail you from your mission. Gandhi and MLK, Jr. were amicable and polite people–but with backbones of steel!


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