Last year, Labour MP Laura Pidcock claimed “I could never be friends with a Tory.” Is this a mind-set we want to have in 2018, considering the sheer political diversity of today’s youth? Or is Pidcock just being pragmatic? Two writers share their thoughts.
I come from a "leftie" background, my dad is a paid up member of the Labour party, my mum refuses to ever vote Tory, and my step mum is one of the biggest socialists I know. If I never branched out from people like my family and myself, that would be the only worldview I’d have. But that view of the world isn’t the world we live in; not everyone holds the same views as my family and that is why I actively enjoy making friends with people who I don’t exactly see eye to eye with politically.
Cutting those out who politically disagree with you risks the creation of a mind-set that lumps people with two different opinions on the same issue together. For example, the prospect that all those who voted for Brexit are racist is a common example of this kind of thought process. This is one I use because only a year ago this was exactly how I thought, not consciously, but it was an assumption I’d make about Brexit voters. Since then a close friend of mine has confessed they supported Brexit and I’ve met many others who also did, none of who held racist views. Only through discussion did I begin to understand the various reasons why they supported Brexit, and no – none of them were related to immigration.
But say you meet someone who is extremely left or extremely right, or if one of those categories applies to you, someone you’re on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from. You could scream in their face, call them a "bigot" or a "snowflake" or you could just avoid them. There is a third option however: you could talk to them, try to work out why they feel that way. Simply pretending that the far-left or far-right doesn’t exist only limits progression and by talking and befriending them you help close the political divide that separates our country at the moment. People with different political views to you are still human. Don’t believe me? Go and talk to one of them.
One of the most common pieces of advice someone will receive if they ask how to avoid conflict with their politically-differing friends is “just don’t talk about politics.” Yet how is this possible in today’s world, where each tweet or like or share is viewed as inherently political? It seems almost futile to attempt to be friends with people who don’t agree with you politically.
Firstly, arguing over politics – especially if both parties are very passionate about their views – can lead to extremely heated debates and can even end badly, causing a lot of pain and jeopardising the friendship. For instance, as a woman, it is difficult for me to listen to men talk about restricting women’s rights to access abortion when that matter doesn’t concern their own bodies. As people are naturally very quarrelsome and love to debate, if you try to convince yourself that you’ll be able to avoid fights, chances are you’re lying to yourself. It is nearly impossible to simply stand there while your views and beliefs are vilified by someone who you consider to be completely in the wrong, and people cannot be blamed for wishing to avoid that.
Political extremists on both ends of the spectrum are also intrinsically cliquey. This applies both to the extreme left and the extreme right. While they allegedly want to draw more people to their cause, they are both discriminatory and attempting to befriend them cannot end well. Most likely, especially at university where political correctness is the norm, you will make more friends who are centrists and moderates, which doesn’t do much to enrich your political views and knowledge.
Lastly, if you are a member of, say, a minority group and you yearn to befriend someone from the alt-right, it’s simply not going to work. People are entitled to their own opinions, yes, but that does not mean that everyone must listen to each other. If one group chooses to attack another, the second group should not be blamed for protecting themselves. Curiosity is one thing, whereas actively seeking out racism or authoritarianism “for sport” is another, highly dangerous one. This is why it is easier and safer to spend time with people who share similar political views, or are at the very least willing to accommodate yours.