We recently asked if you could be in a relationship with someone whose political views are different to yours. How about a friendship?

Yes – “politics doesn’t have to be personal
James Dunstan

It seems like more and more people are unable to see past a friend’s opposing political beliefs. I’m sympathetic: nothing is more infuriating than a good person holding immoral or irrational beliefs. But to refuse to be friends with a person merely for differing political beliefs is childish, arrogant and ultimately bad for both of you.

Firstly, who else is better placed than a friend to change a person’s mind? Have you ever changed your beliefs when somebody was a dick, or because of an angry Facebook comment? Rather, an impassioned discussion over a pint or two works wonders. People are more open when they’re at ease, not defensive. If you don’t care to change a person’s beliefs, then both of you must not be passionate enough for it to come between you.

Who better to test your beliefs than a friend who thinks differently?

Political discussion, whether you’re on the defensive or the offensive, is an excellent way to check and develop your own views. It is arrogant to assume that you’re right about all your political beliefs. If you surround yourself with people of the same views, you’ve just created a comfortable echo-chamber where you’re never challenged. That serves nobody, as not only will you be unable to argue your point in a debate setting, but you will probably believe things which are just plain wrong. Confirmation bias is deadly to truth. Who better to test your beliefs than a friend who thinks differently? They’ll actively be looking for holes in your arguments, and you theirs. A politically different friend is excellent for developing your own opinions.

Finally, besides these practical concerns, reducing people to their political beliefs is just dehumanising. True, a person’s political beliefs are indicative of their values. But don’t we expect to have somewhat differing values than your friends anyway? Imagine if every time you and a friend had a disagreement, you just ditched them. The point of a friend is that there is something about them which overpowers the differences you have with them. Spending time with them is enjoyable and intrinsically valuable. And besides, what power do either of you have to change things? You might argue over which sports teams is better, but neither of you are the manager. Ultimately, your differences make very, very little practical difference.

Of course, I’m not saying that it is not either justifiable or understandable to not want to be friends with a Nazi or extremist. Nobody must tolerate dehumanisation or intolerance, and this shows a clear flaw with the person’s values. But most people are relatively moderate, or simply aren’t passionate about politics.

So, give your friends a break. They can be wrong sometimes, and just maybe you’ll end up thinking you were a little bit wrong too.

No – “These political views will eventually create problems in everyday interactions”
Foteini Kolovou

Political views and manners constitute an extension, or a mirror, of how we act and behave in our social and personal environment. We can and should interact with people that have different political beliefs, debate with them and both expand our minds and reach concrete conclusions regarding the status quo. Sometimes these differences, if managed properly, can make our relationships beautiful, fulfilling and exciting.

However, there are important exceptions regarding such interactions. If the political views of the interacting individuals lie in the extremes of the political spectrum or are based in extreme dogmas, this could lead to non-constructive discussions and can significantly worsen their relations.

The social class of our families and the imposed thought patterns and opinions construct the first lenses from which we see, judge and experience the world. Subsequently, proper education gives us the opportunity to expand, reshape and change our views. When referring to education, we should not just consider the ‘superficial’ layer of knowledge, but most crucially the acquired skills of critical thinking that will enable you to digest what you are being given.

There are important exceptions regarding such interactions.

Lastly and most importantly, personality virtues of the individuals such as empathy, respect, open-mindedness, conciliatory, tolerance to the difference etc. are what will balance the interests against the rest of your fellow citizens. Thus, extreme political views that disrespect basic human rights and beliefs such as that everyone is equal and at the same time unique will eventually create conflicts. Even if you try avoiding talking about these political views, they will eventually create problems in everyday interactions because the conflicts touch on core human beliefs, rather than intellectualised social structures and systems.

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Forge Press.

Words by James Dunstan and Foteini Kolovou
Image credit: The White House


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