Can a friendship broken by politics be mended?

Can a friendship broken by politics be mended?

Can friendships survive deep political divides?

Listening to the news on 24th June 2016, the day after the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), my heart sank. Brexit had become a reality.

The reasons for my despair after that vote were many, but one stood out above all the rest:

The narratives around Brexit, and from the most extreme proponents of it, have fuelled and ‘legitimised’ the sharp rise in xenophobia and racist attacks in the UK.

I knew that some good friends of mine had voted for Brexit – and so they had voted for the side promoting that xenophobia. In that moment of hearing the news, I didn’t know whether those friendships would be sustainable anymore. I felt betrayed: I am white but my partner is a person of colour. My friends had chosen to support the side that had now put a target on his back, risking his safety and, potentially, his life. He (and we) have skin in the game, literally.

In a way, it was little surprise when the racist abuse began again for my partner – but shocking still for him to experience things he hadn’t seen since schooldays in the late 70s.

So is it possible to mend a friendship broken by such polarised politics? Can we get past that feeling of betrayal? Can we reach a point of reconciliation?

It’s a very personal question for all of us. With the massively divisive political rhetoric circulating in a lot of places in the world, not least in the USA, I suspect these are questions many people are asking themselves right now.

When politics is a theatre of extremes, the resulting narrative in the press and online means people take up positions that are far more entrenched and polarised than before.

We are being taught to fear certain groups and to align with certain others, and our choices will depend on what we read and who we listen to.

So healing relationships across such divides can be a tall order, but here are some of my personal thoughts about mending a friendship broken by politics.

Is it a deal-breaker?

When a friend admitted to me that she actually preferred to have white neighbours, I was deeply shocked and hurt. I was horrified, actually. I thought long and hard about what my response should be. In the end I decided not to continue the friendship because, for me personally, diversity and inclusion is one of my strongest values.

I often write about how vital it is that we listen to each other so we can build bridges of understanding, and in a way I feel I failed with this particular friendship. Maybe there’s no right or wrong in these cases though.

Consciously letting the friendship go was, in a way, mending it. Sometimes we need to grieve for what will no longer be, and then accept that perhaps some things are never going to last forever.

I am in awe of leaders like Özlem Sara Cekic, who set up #DialogueCoffee after receiving hate mail, yet who subsequently began inviting her haters to meet and talk with her. She has had some success in lowering, if not removing, levels of hostility by helping her haters see that she has similar wants, needs and loves as they do. Meet Ozlem Sara Cekic, Denmark’s female Muslim MP who meets neo-Nazis for tea and cake – article from The Independent

Is there any room for understanding?

When someone you know votes for something that has such a deeply negative impact on your own life, the obvious question to ask is ‘Why did they do that?’ An entrenched prejudice is one thing, but when their vote was cast with a view that ‘I’m not really interested in politics but this seemed to be what my Twitter feed was telling me’, then maybe we have more scope.

Do we decide to invest time in explaining why this has been so damaging to us and to those we love – and hope the other person will listen and start to understand the impact of their vote? Or do we choose to ignore the subject when we see our friend? Or do we give up on reconciliation and let the friendship fizzle out?

It’s hard. Polarised narratives embed themselves deeply in the psyche of everyone hearing and believing them, whatever the vote and whatever the side.

Maybe an initial question to ask the friend is whether they would be willing to hear you out – for you to explain what’s happened from your point of view. If they’re not, maybe you have your answer straight away. If they are, though, then there could be space for understanding to emerge on both sides.

3 ways to find resolution in a friendship broken by politics

1. Take a pen and paper and write (just for yourself) about the current situation in the world and/or to do with the issue – but write from the point of view of your friend. Aim to be objective and find arguments to support their ‘side’. See what emerges that you may not have thought about before.

2. Now write something similar, using the same points, but this time write as if your friend is writing it – and imagine they are feeling fear. Does that help you understand why they might have made the decision they made? And does that present greater scope for discussion?

3. If you feel that the friendship probably won’t survive, write a letter to your friend. (You don’t have to actually send it.) Explain your reasons for feeling as you do and also acknowledge all the good things about them and about your friendship over the years. Put your own case too, and end on a positive note. If you’re not actually going to send the letter, read it out loud to yourself and then tear it up respectfully. This often helps you take the first steps into your life without them. It’s not necessarily easy, but it can work well when so much has been at stake in the actions of both sides.

If, despite your best efforts, a relationship really can’t survive, if the issue is too fundamental, maybe find the courage to draw a line and build a new community of friends who share the same value set. I realise, though, that this can lead to the same tribalism that causes problems in the first place. Maybe we need to build friendships where we aren’t afraid to challenge each other’s beliefs from time to time, and keep looking at the bigger picture.

Maybe mending a friendship broken by politics really comes down to our willingness to sit down and have the conversation – and to engage. I’d be interested to hear your views.

Why diverse opinions are vital in a tribal world

How our friendship survives our opposing politics – TED talk

11 ways to speak with the ‘enemy’ – article from Lynne Mctaggart

4 Comments

  1. Jayelle 1 month ago

    I have distanced myself and in some instances completely removed myself from friends and family that have continued to support President Trump in the U.S. I do not personally want to have friendships with people that refuse to see the hatred, racial discrimination, misogynistic,
    wilful disregard for science and facts and actual encouragement of violence towards the people he has been elected to protect.
    Am I not agreeing with the Political and social vomit that he spews every time he opens his mouth if I continue to be friends or associate with the people that believe as he does?
    Even after trying to debate with them and after they refuse to show me the facts they have based their promotion of his ideals on, I cannot see how they can turn their heads and hearts towards a person that has so much hatred inside of them, that would jeopardize an entire country just to sooth his egotistical self.
    I shake my head and wonder how that country has come to such a low point.
    (Yes, I have dual citizenship, but I see myself as a Canadian first. I was recently asked “why do you care, you don’t live in the U.S.?” My response is this….if I have a neighbour who’s dog comes to my property every day to defecate on my lawn, well, it’s my lawn that suffers and the goodwill between myself and my neighbour suffers.)
    Again, if I have tried to see the other persons point of view, attempted to show them that there is a better way than hate and they refuse, well, then I have no choice but to remove myself from them and keep myself and my family safe.
    I myself cannot be a true friend if that friend has no regard for the safety of others, the human rights of others or if that friend is a racist.

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 1 month ago

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experience, Jayelle. These are such crazy times, aren’t they? Your point about the question, “Why do you care?” is a powerful one. As you’ve shown, we all need to care – and of course we’ll each do that in a way that feels right to us. I think if we are our best selves in trying to establish dialogue, and yet we’re met with ongoing hostility, then it’s completely understandable that we’d need to retreat to a place of safety for ourselves and for those we love. Thanks again for sharing. I’ll be thinking of you on November 3rd.

  2. Tina Haben 1 month ago

    My friends are very diverse and I like them all for different reasons. Each one is a complex individual and they all have parts of them that I like and parts that I find more challenging. If I chose to discard a friendship because of one aspect that I disagree with I would probably end up with no friends. Also over my 50 something years I have had friendships ‘wax and wane’, if I had abandoned them completely I would have regretted it and my life would have been poorer because of it.

    I feel focussing on the reasons we became friends or the things I value in my friendships rather than the things that cause discord allows me to have more compassion for my fellow human beings and what I perceive to be their faults. My hope is that they will do the same with me.

    I believe that the dis-ease that is affecting this world at the moment is one of separation, disconnection and self-interest, anything we can do to change this and become kinder, more altruistic and more connected has to be a good thing.

    You finish with “Maybe we need to build friendships where we aren’t afraid to challenge each other’s beliefs from time to time, and keep looking at the bigger picture” I agree and wonder if I could add tolerance into the mix here. Challenge given with tolerance and kindness can be more effective than giving up on the friendship altogether.

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 1 month ago

      Thanks so much for your comment and your insights, Tina. I hope that humans can indeed work to build more connection between each other. The divides can feel really challenging at times. For me, one of the hardest things to overcome is when the divides are about identity – divisions that are fuelled because of how someone looks or on account of the community they grew up in. It causes so much pain – and of course inequality too. Thanks again for your thoughts.

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