Can we be friends with our political opponents?

Today’s post is a follow up to my last post on political polarisation. If you haven’t read that one yet, click here. Today I’ll be talking more closely about how polarisation and differing political opinions affect our relationships and friendships.

We have all become very politically saturated in society. Politics takes up a large part of regular conversation, it’s no longer taboo to talk politics, it’s become part of regular discourse. With that, politics has saturated our conversation, including with our friends and family. So, when our friends have different political opinions to our own, can we get along even if we have different political ideals? I’ll be discussing this today.

Politics is personal, its our identity…

Politics has become very much personal over the years. It’s not just a passing remark to say you voted for a different political party, in some cases its an insult or violation to our political identity. To say you voted for a different political party, is to say I value this over what you value. When a certain policy effects the way we live out our lives, for example, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, gender pay gaps or low-income support, it can feel very offensive, and like a personal attack, when someone says they do not believe in a policy that protects those rights. In that case it can feel very personal when someone opposes your political ideals and values.

Our political values are becoming more and more a part of who we are and how we choose to live, disagreeing with that is like saying I do not agree with the way you live your life, and we take that very personally, because it is something that defines who we are and what we believe in.

Friends who don’t support your human rights and values…aren’t friends

I think it’s best to get the obvious out the way. If someone’s political values and beliefs mean that they do not support your fundamental human rights, then they are not a friend to be keeping around. You simply cannot disagree on human rights, and be friends. If someone is saying any of the following statements to you and they correlate with a part of your identity, then they are not a friend.

  • ‘I like you, but I don’t believe in gay marriage’
  • ‘You’re great, but, I don’t think that our governmental systems restrict people of colour.’
  • ‘I think that the gender pay gap is just something women are complaining about’
  • ‘You are transgender though, you shouldn’t be allowed to use the women’s bathroom if you aren’t biologically a woman.’

The person telling you that, is not your friend. That person is supporting policies that restrict how you live, they are dictating your place in society. They are choosing to ignore your rights and on an even more personal note as a friend, your individual struggles, they don’t support you because they don’t value your rights or your political identity. That is not okay, they have to go. Overall, even communicating with someone who doesn’t support your basic human rights is next to impossible, so being friends is just a no go zone.

I think in situations such as this, you get those people who think that just because identity politics doesn’t impact them, they don’t have to worry. If you’re a white heterosexual man, society was built for you to thrive, there’s a fat chance you’ve never thought about your identity or your place in society, because it’s never impacted a decision you’ve had to make. Due to this mindset, thinking about other peoples rights may not cross your mind, you don’t have to worry because it doesn’t affect your life. But, other peoples lives are affected. Even if you don’t need to worry about your own rights, you should worry about others. You don’t have to be a part of the minority to care about the rights of the minority. If you don’t and your friends are part of that minority, it is not okay to not support their rights just because ‘you don’t have to worry’, open your eyes and support other people in society, not just yourself. It’s not a good enough reason to not have to think about how political policy impacts other peoples lives just because it doesn’t impact yours. If you have friends that are oppressed or restricted by a party your vote for, your a bad friend.

Do not be friends with people who do not support your basic rights, this shouldn’t even be political. This is not a debate topic. You can’t compromise when it comes to human rights. You definitely can’t be friends with people who disagree with your rights, that’s for sure.

But what about small disagreements about politics, that aren’t close to our identity?

When it comes to politics or areas in policy we aren’t so passionate about or focused on, we can have a fairly healthy debate and even disagreement with friends. The likelihood of this discussion is that you will still be friends at the end because your identity is not so closely attached to the policy, or you have less passion associated to the area.

Let’s imagine you are talking to your friend about an area in current political discourse that neither of you have strong opinions about, if they were to object to your opinion you would not feel particularly upset or attacked by their disagreement. If you and your friend do not strongly lean either way you may end up being convinced by your friends opinion or you may mutually agree to disagree. Either way you carry on the friendship with that person because you both respect eachothers opinion, even when you have minor disagreements.

The main reason this communication was successful was because you and your friend were both fairly neutral about the topic anyway, you may not agree, but you were not on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum. If however, your friend was to say they didn’t think the recent transgender rights reform was important and you or a close friend or family member was transgender and this topic was important to you, you would feel very attacked by this comment. You are no longer discussing a part of politics that you feel neutral about. You feel strongly about this topic and a friend disagreeing with transgender reform feels like an attack on values that you deem important.

We see this in multiple different scenarios. You may not feel bothered about the way the UK trades with other countries, but you care strongly about protecting low income families. In that case, when someone debates with you about foreign policy you are fairly neutral and engage in healthy debate with friends or family, but when someone challenges you about free school meals or argues that we should increase the charge of transport for kids to get to school, you will not want to entertain a debate such as this because you are passionate about it and you are not willing to compromise on something that is so important to you.

When things are close to our identity or our political values they aren’t up for debate and in some cases, we are not willing to entertain an opponent because, like in the last example, having free school meals is simply essential. There are things we view as ‘not up for debate’ and when someone tries to challenge this, it attacks our literal political identity. We take it very personally.

In that case, if our friends disagree with some of our opinions about politics that we don’t prioritise highly, that friendship can continue, but if a friend doesn’t support the same core values as us, we can find it very hard to be friends with them because our political values and identity are too different. The way we live our lives and the values we hold close to our hearts should be supported by our friends, not challenged.

Concluding thoughts

I think we can debate about policy we don’t hold close to our political identity and if a friend doesn’t agree about a policy that isn’t a number one priority to us, then that’s okay, as long as they do support what is important to us. A friend can’t be your friend but also not support policy that determines your rights as an individual and your freedom in society.

Surrounding yourself with friends that have the same core values as you is important. Especially when those values are so closely tied to your identity. This is why we surround ourselves with people who support or vote for the same party as we do, because we share important values about how society should be and the livelihood of others. However, this is also the reason why polarisation continues to divide us.

Pro-life supporters signs.

Finding a common ground between people who disagree on core political values can be difficult, some policies completely contradict the other, for example, pro-choice and pro-life, wealth inequality and lowering taxes for the richer of society. These different sides of policy often struggle to find a middle ground because they are both on the opposite end of the debate. I’m going to look into this a little more in a post to come with the help of the YouTube channel Jubilee and their series called ‘Middle Ground’ where they put people in the same room with completely different opinions and make them debate, some outcomes are really not what you expect.

Pro-choice supporters signs.

That being said, realistically we can’t be friends with someone who is polar opposite to our political beliefs because we both would impose values onto eachother that don’t correlate with the way we want to live our life. I myself could not be friends with someone who doesn’t believe in LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality or women’s rights because that means the other person is willing to oppress those communities, even giving them the time of day sends shivers down my spine. Learning how to communicate with people who don’t believe in the same thing as we do is important if we are to see change in our society, so I am hoping that looking at how people do find middle ground when they disagree on so much will be insightful, so make sure to come back to that article!

Today’s post felt a little like a ramble of my never ending thoughts since writing my dissertation and how we can reconcile communication with such different people when they really are sooo different, but I hope you still enjoyed it! 🙂