Dear Dr. Hurd,
I disagree with some of my friends regarding the upcoming election. And now the holidays are coming up and I have to be with them. Yikes! Because of my frustration over what they say and think, I have become disgusted and withdrawn. If I disconnect myself from everyone with whom I disagree, I’ll have to terminate some long-time friendships. What can I do? I’m so conflicted.
Dear S. Conflicted,
I don’t completely agree with the rule about not discussing politics or religion. If ideas are important to you, then you should not automatically give up what you value. Nor should anyone else. At the same time, it makes no sense to try and discuss ideas with anybody who is either, (a) not interested in the subject generally, or (b) not open to your particular perspective.
You have to decide what’s worth — and not worth — fighting for. If you feel one candidate is worth it, then go for it. But everything has a cost. A key issue is whether your opinion is requested. A direct person might say, ‘Tell me what you think of such-and-such.’ Another more common way is that somebody will indirectly introduce the subject. They’ll mention that they hold a particular view, then they’ll look at you and try to gauge your reaction. They might even automatically assume that you agree when, in fact, you don’t. In such a case, I think integrity requires that you at least say, ‘I don’t agree’ or ‘I see it differently’ — anything other than silence. Beyond that, you’re not required to be a crusader for your views unless it’s worth it to you.
Sometimes you have to pick your battles. It can be frustrating to argue over particular candidates, since in the end they agree on many things — with their disagreements skillfully amplified in their desperate need to get elected. It’s really general principles over which people fight, such as freedom of speech, public or private ownership of wealth or perhaps if a higher power is needed to guide one’s life. While it may or may not be worthwhile to discuss these general issues with people you know, it’s certainly more productive than fighting over the minutia of candidate X or candidate Y.
What about a person you really like and enjoy, except for politics (or whatever)? Should you lose this person over the disagreement? Is eliminating them from your life worse than standing up for what you believe? Well, maybe yes, maybe no.
You really have to take it case by case. If you can objectively identify something healthy and enjoyable that you get out of spending time with this person, then pursue that interest and forget the bottomless quagmire of political nitpicking. Discuss other things you have in common (something must have brought you two together in the first place). Some people might not be open to your political opinions, but will be open to other sorts of philosophical ideas that are more fundamental than politics. Different friends offer us different things.
Don’t choose people just because you fear loneliness. It’s not fair to them, and you won’t enjoy it anyway. If someone’s viewpoints so disgust you, and they otherwise have little else to offer, then stop wasting everyone’s time. Hold out for those who share your values and interests. In the meantime, read a good book.
Thomas Jefferson, who lived during rough political times and had pretty strong political views himself, advised, ‘I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.’ By and large, he’s right. If politics or religion can be set aside in favor of other common values, then why part ways? Watch out for one thing, though: If the disagreements are in fact symptoms of an already unhappy friendship, then you can’t blame politics and religion. Face reality, put the relationship out of its misery, and move on.