Friends at odds with ideology?

At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…

Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…

If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.

So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.

Let me offer an example:

I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations).  Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.

Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.

As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:

  • I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
  • I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
  • I think about all the people who view the world as he does

After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.

Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends anyone who drank or smoked. I even refused to socialize with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.

In those days, I was referred to as being “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!

In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.

I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.

I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.