It’s OK To Have Friends With Differing Political Views

Tom Stevenson
Photo by Shelagh Murphy on Unsplash

I can’t believe I need to write these words, but it’s ok to have a friend who has different political views from yours. Over the past few years, political discourse in the United States, the UK, Europe and many other places, has become more and more polarised.

This hasn’t been helped by the election of Trump and the success of the Leave side in the UK’s Brexit referendum. Either side in these debates has become more entrenched and is reluctant to give up ground to the other.

In some cases, those who do not adhere to the preferred line are seen as traitors or defying the will of the people. Opposition has become treacherous and belief in dogma is prized above all.

Of course, this is terrible for politics. This is not how democracies should function. It pushes the reason we have democracies to one side. Simply put, it’s because there is no one agreed way to govern a country. We swing from the Conservative ideology of a small state and personal freedom to a Liberal ideology, along with Social Democrats, Socialism and Libertarians.

With so many competing ideologies it’s obvious that the best way to govern a country is up for debate. If it wasn’t, there would be no need for the differing ideologies and elections would be based on who should run the system instead of what parts of the system should change.

As we are not in that position, and probably never will be, these ideologies are here to stay and so is the debate that surrounds them. One thing I have noticed on social media and in real life is an unwillingness on the part of some people to be friends with others from across the political spectrum.

Personally, I find this bizarre. Just because you subscribe to a particular political doctrine doesn't mean you should only associate with people who think like you. This encourages tribalism and polarisation which we have too much of in society.

Instead, you should embrace those people you know who think differently to you. Some of my best friends have differing views to my own. One of whom I spent six months travelling around Europe by car. Due to our views and our love of debate, we often talked about many topics. Although we disagreed about many things, we also discovered that we had similar views on many others.

For years I had assumed that most of my friends thought the same way as I did. The Brexit vote was eye-opening for me as it revealed some of them didn’t. During our road trip, I discovered that although we disagreed often, it was beneficial to hear the other side of the argument.

Often, I only considered my point of view and neglected to look at issues from a different angle. Talking to my friend helped me to understand certain issues better and made me realise why people might think differently to me. Debates are not clear cut and there is a lot more nuance involved in political issues than many of us think.

If you stick rigidly to your own dogma and don’t venture outside of it to consider other viewpoints, you’re doing yourself a disservice. If you’re ending friendships or writing people off straight away because of their political views, then you’re adding to the problems we have not solving them.

The further and further we entrench ourselves into our positions, the harder it becomes to reach out to the other side. To form a consensus, to have a tolerant and reasoned debate. All of this is the lifeblood of a democracy, if we ignore this then we endanger democracy.

I can sense the comments coming now. What about Trump supporters? What about those who back the Green New Deal, aren’t they socialists? My advice would be the same; reach out to those people and strike up a conversation. Question why they think the way they do and the benefits of what they’re proposing. This is the best way to ascertain whether what they’re espousing is sound or not.

I'm no fan of Trump. I believe he’s divisive, egotistical and indecent but that doesn’t mean that all his supporters are too. Sure, some of them will be but not all of them are. Instead of berating these people, it’s better to engage them, to question them and have a civil debate.

If you deride them, question their choices and make fun of them, you’re playing into Trump’s hands. This is what he wants. Then when he parrots his lines about liberals and how mean they are, his supporters think, wait a minute, something like this happened to me the other day.

All of this isn’t helped by an increasing number of people getting their news from social media platforms. Twitter encourages nuance to be dropped from debate with its 280 character limit. It’s no wonder the platform is full of vitriol. While Facebook is a haven for disinformation. With information flying around in ever-increasing quantities, it’s no wonder some of us struggle to tell what’s genuine and what’s misleading.

Social media and the media, in general, encourages us to move further and further back into our positions. They encourage us to confirm our biases instead of challenging our perceptions. This is how you can find two friends who went to the same school, had the same education and have widely differing views on politics and life.

While it’s justified to break off friendships with those who are promoting wild conspiracy theories and extreme political views, if you can win someone round with first, try it. Most people are reasonable, most of us are happy to enter into a discussion about a variety of topics. Friendship is more precious than the supremacy of your political views.

It is crazy that I feel the need to write an article about why you shouldn’t fall out over politics. Unfortunately, it’s a sign of times. The days where figures such as Joe Biden and John McCain could forge a lifelong friendship despite political differences, appear to be a distant memory. Bipartisanship is in dire need of a comeback.

It’s time we remembered that debate is healthy, without it, democracy cannot function. There were always be disagreements in politics, no one has a monopoly on the truth. Democracy itself is a reflection of that.

I’ve learnt a lot from my friends with differing views to myself. I saw issues in a different light, understood why people think the way they do and addressed my own blind spots on issues. Forcing your opinions on others, or expecting them to acquiesce to your own is wrong.

Democracy thrives on debate, if we don’t encourage it, we’ll find it slowly withers and dies. If we can’t tolerate the opinions of our own friends, how can we possibly tolerate the opinions of those we disagree with?

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