It’s almost a week after the election, and my Facebook feed is still lighting up with political status updates and pictures. Since President Obama has officially won a second term, these updates range from declaring that this must be the end of the world because Obama will ruin everything to downright gloating over the Democratic victory. In my experience, this seems to be a situational phenomenon, only surrounding the election. Many of my friends are not political by nature, but have grabbed on to this election with full force, using every excuse to bring up politics or to get on their soapbox.
However, it seems to me that more people have dusted off their soapboxes for this election than any in my memory, especially on Facebook. There are many possible reasons for this shift. First is that I’m now in the “almost 30″ age bracket, and so are most of my friends, and age has brought with it more knowledge and a deep sense of civic duty. Second might be the fact that Facebook allows me to read the opinions of many of my friends that I wouldn’t otherwise hear; many of my friends have moved away or don’t call as often as they used to, but we keep in touch over the internet, and I see all of their updates — political or otherwise.
Finally, posting things to social networks seems to make it easier for people to share their opinions. Perhaps the internet gives us a sense of anonymity or a distance that allows us to feel more comfortable sharing how we feel about certain issues.
Whatever the reason, people I didn’t even know had any political affiliations have come out of the woodwork to share their beliefs and, while their beliefs are being shared on Facebook, their opinions have permeated our real-life friendships. As someone who has always had very strong political views, I am finding that I vehemently disagree with many of my friends with whom I’ve never had so much as a tiny argument before. I’m finding that these disagreements are tainting our friendships, and making it difficult to spend time together or even chat over the phone because the discussion will, inevitably, shift toward the political.
What is a person to do when they find they disagree with their friends about politics? Do they give up a lifetime of friendship just because one is a Democrat and one is a Republican?
Hugo Schwyzer has recently answered this question with a resounding “yes.” He says, “Our beliefs should never be so passionately held as to render us incapable of decency and empathy. But our core beliefs shouldn’t be worn so lightly that they can be tossed aside for the sake of amiability,” and that, sometimes, when a person disagrees with you politically, it is a personal affront, as well. If they oppose gay marriage, for example, and you or someone you love is fighting for the right to marry, the political meets the personal very quickly.
While I do agree that we should hold our beliefs near to us and not give them up for the sake of a friendship, I also disagree that friendships — particularly ones that span decades — should be tossed aside because of political differences. If you’ve been friends with someone long enough, and if you have become close over the years, you should be aware of each other’s core beliefs well before an election year. If your disagreements weren’t enough to end your friendship before it even started, why should an election get in the way?
It seems that, in the age of Facebook, it is not only easier to share political opinions, but it is easier to “unfriend” people, as well. We are so used to the finality of Facebook (how many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s not official until it’s Facebook official”?) that, when someone irritates or disagrees with us, we consider “unfriending” them as a legitimate option. Instead of allowing friendships to take their natural course and either grow stronger or wear thin over time, we’re either friends or not and demonstrating so is as easy as clicking a button. True friendships aren’t that easy to sever, nor should they be.
This is not to say that you should never end a friendship over political differences. Sometimes, when the political becomes personal, you have to choose between your friendship or your mental health. However, I would urge you to have a discussion with those people to find out the underlying cause of your disagreements rather than simply deleting them from your life.
Photo Credit: don relyea