Credit: GG Features Editor Nairne Clark Hopkinson (@nairne_creates)

Friends from the other side

By Rothery Sullivan

Navigating friendships across the political spectrum.

Is it possible to maintain friendships with people on the other end of the political spectrum? It’s an important question in today’s politically charged world. Politics often revolve around human rights issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights, abortion and feminism; other prejudices such as racism, ableism, anti-semitism and Islamophobia are all too common. While these topics may be seen as largely social, they have become political, as the rights of people in these marginalised groups are put in the hands of the government. People’s views on these issues ultimately come down to moral values, making them more than simply political problems where our opinions could just rely on reasons and logic. 

I believe that it is possible to maintain friendships with people who oppose you on issues which are strictly political, such as problems relating to healthcare and education funding, gun control, privacy or taxation. However, this friendship will only last if both people share the same morals. When the political issues discussed are about the fundamental rights of human lives, people’s opinions on these issues stem from their character, their view of the world, and often either their privilege, or their reluctance to acknowledge their privilege. I do not think it is possible to maintain a friendship in which both people’s morals are vastly different, unless you ignore your “friend’s” views altogether. Unfortunately, ignoring a person’s morals cannot lead to a healthy friendship either, as you would not be accepting the person for who they are. True friendship can only exist between people who share the same morality as you cannot claim to care about someone and not care about their key values (as our values form our choices, and our choices make us the people who we are).

Often, our reasons for being friends with people stem from the fact that the friendship is beneficial in some way: our friends help us or make us happy in different areas of life. This is the first component to what I believe makes up friendship. Another key pillar to friendship is mutual respect, it just does not seem possible to form a genuine relationship with love and trust if there is no foundation of respect. As Aristotle notes when discussing friendship, true friendship can only be formed when two friends share the same values and help each other be better people; so, ultimately, only good or morally virtuous people can remain friends. I believe this to be true. A person can only be your friend if they understand, accept and care about you as a person; this respect also requires them to understand, accept and care about the other people you love too. For example, you would never want to be friends with someone who treated your family poorly, would you?

For example, let’s say that you belong to at least one marginalised group that is directly affected by the previously stated human rights issues in the political realm. If you accept the two components I have outlined to be true foundations to friendship, happiness and respect, it’s logical that you couldn’t be friends with someone who believes that you don’t deserve basic human rights (such as equal access to medical care, adoption, marriage, jobs, or the justice system). If a person takes action (i.e. by voting) to have these rights taken from you, they clearly do not respect you as an individual. Moreover, this friendship would not be one that would be overall beneficial to you as the benefits that may come from the friendship would be outweighed by the lack of respect and hurt you would feel by allowing them to play an active role in your life. 

On another side of this, consider a situation in which your basic rights are not ones being determined in the political sphere; it is still likely that someone you love has their rights on the line. In this circumstance, it still does not seem plausible that a true friendship could be formed wherein your friend actively harms people that you love by voting for politicians or laws that will take away their rights. Even if the person in question does not vote, they are still showing a lack of respect for you and your loved ones by not helping to stand for equality. There is no wiggle room in disagreement when it comes to human rights issues in friendships as these issues are ones that involve morality.

One final argument that tends to be linked to many political issues regarding human rights – specifically in relation to LGBTQ+ and abortion rights – is religion. You may find yourself in a situation with a friend who shares many of your values and treats you with respect, but due to their religious beliefs do not support abortion, gay marriage and gay adoption, along with other similar issues. In this circumstance, their beliefs are stemming from a system that is larger than them as their values come from a religion. However, for the reasons listed before regarding respect and happiness, this is not a safe friendship to be in. If your friend is not willing to hear your side of the argument and open the floor for a discussion, this friend clearly does not respect your views. Moreover, we should not need to argue about why people deserve the same rights as others as this is not something that can be debated with reasons and logic; everyone deserves equal rights no matter how it may negatively affect those who are more privileged. “Agreeing to disagree” is no longer acceptable in friendships when you are “disagreeing” about the equality of basic human rights.

However, it does seem possible to find some freedom to debate in other political realms that do not involve civil rights, and therefore may not involve morality. For example, it is possible to maintain a friendship in which two people disagree on the amount of funding that should go into the healthcare and education systems, as long as both views have the same intent to provide the most beneficial circumstance for every person, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion. I have also seen circumstances where people disagree on gun control. For example, I believe that guns should be regulated whereas some of my friends believe they should be banned entirely; we are able to maintain a friendship despite this differing view as we both value the safety of others. However, I want to note that many political issues boil down to human rights issues, such as in the racial, class and gender inequalities seen in our education systems and healthcare accessibility. Again, these ultimately come down to the fight for equality, which comes from our moral compass. 

While you may think that a political view will not directly harm anyone, hateful political views contribute to a system of oppression that people must fight against every day. Our political views usually stem from reasons, and these reasons stem from our moral values as individuals. It is possible to maintain a friendship despite differing opinions on specific topics as long as both individuals share the same values. These types of friendships will lead to educational and eye-opening debates that will enhance both people’s view on the world and lead to a flourishing relationship. However, in cases where key values differ (and human rights are on the line), a friendship is not only impossible but will inevitably be harmful for those who choose to ignore the unhealthy nature of the relationship. No one should put up with hate for the sake of friendship. There is no room for respect or trust in these friendships, which causally does not make them friendships at all. 


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