The Awkwardness of Cross-Political Friendships
It’s not easy on these streets. People may not be on them at the moment, but it’s still hard out there. Each week of lockdown feels like it’s bringing ten years’ worth of terrifying and existentially depressing news. Whether it’s (allegedly!) racist royals; fascistic bills going through the commons; or police violence at a protest against police violence (that last one both feels eternal and very 2020 to me), 2021 has definitely come out swinging. This, combined with the fact that we are both morally and — more importantly — legally bound to not get out there and make any new memories, there seems little else to think or talk about. WandaVision is over, so we actually have to talk about politics.
Adding some very real pressure to that is exactly with whom we are talking about politics. In Q1 2021, we’re not casually shaking our heads as our bosses pontificate and we desperately blow on our tea, hoping it will cool down enough for us to have a mouthful before we’re forced to lie about our own opinions. No, we’re at home. We’re with our friends and family. These opinions matter.
We’re with our friends and family. These opinions matter.
For a lot of people (not me personally, but here we are), politics aren’t a primary concern. Agree to disagree. Grandma’s nice actually, as long don’t talk about the immigrants. Other platitudes we won’t waste our time with. But the issue now is that politics is starting to actually feel as personal as it’s always actually been. With little else to think about, who said what about baby Archie takes on an importance it may not have 18 months ago. The image of a woman being cuffed on the ground at a vigil for a murdered woman, her red hair as defiant as her face, could be anyone, someone we know. For a lot of people the luxury of ignoring the plight of the oppressed is evaporating quickly. It’s an uncomfortable process. I know it of old.
I should preface this by saying that I’ve already cheated a little bit. I’ve mentioned the word “politics” in my headline. This is deliberate. But it’s also misleading. It’s misleading because the extent to which “politics” and “values” can be conflated is malleable. This is often used as a cheat. We can be friends with people who disagree with us. Of course we can. But we can’t be friends with people who fundamentally don’t share our beliefs or values. Cross-political friendships aren’t doomed. But it very much depends on the reason for that contrast. If you and your friend both want to end homelessness and child poverty but disagree over the method, that’ll work. If that’s what you care about and they just want to make sure that they don’t pay any tax and actually don’t really care about anything else. Now, I’ll ask you: how likely is that to actually work?
We can be friends with people who disagree with us. Of course we can. But we can’t be friends with people who fundamentally don’t share our beliefs or values.
It can work for a long time, of course. As long as these things don’t come up. And that’s where I do feel for people who don’t externally present in a way that gives an indication of their values. People don’t look at me and think I’d be fine with casual racism. But that isn’t the case for everyone. And a lot of people are learning that now. The fantasy of a pluralist approach to values is being threatened. Relationships are being threatened.
It’s better — you may not believe this, but it is — to lose the people who don’t share your values. Our values are what make us. People who don’t respect them, aren’t respecting us as people. When two people fundamentally disagree, one has to bend and both are lessened. Core values are exactly that. Core. Integral. Key. They are the foundations on which we build ourselves. To undermine them for the sake of someone else is one of the worst things you can do to yourself. As we grapple with some difficult societal truths, we also have to be honest closer to home. It may not feel that way, but you owe it to yourself. A conflict of core values is an almost impossible thing to overcome in the long run.
To undermine [your core values] for the sake of someone else is one of the worst things you can do to yourself.
It may feel like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but really, these conversations (and, potentially, break-ups) were inevitable from the very start.