Social Issues

When to end a friendship over politics

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Would your family have hidden mine from the Nazis?

I kid you not, I asked this question of my friends when I was a child. It was the ultimate gauge to see if they were truly good people (thankfully, they all said yes, they would have hidden me, but many of them didn’t even know what Nazis were. Not a common talking point for six-year-olds).

That memory resurfaced as the world is ablaze with debates about systemic racism, white privilege, and police brutality. Scrolling through the avalanche of opinions on social media, I’ve been reconsidering which of my current relationships are healthy enough to keep growing, and which ones it’s time to let go of for my own sanity.

I’ve been at a loss, wondering what to do about the people in my life who hold some very uninformed opinions (“White privilege is a myth”; “If black people don’t want to get shot by cops, they should just follow the law”), but also helped me and my husband when he unexpectedly lost his job three years ago. These people who hold disturbing beliefs (some of which make me feel unsafe, both as a Jew by birth and an assault survivor) have been quick to lend a hand, drive me to the airport, and watch my cats while on vacation in the past.

This presents a rather baffling conundrum: how can some people be so kind, and yet so dangerous at the same time?

I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. I don’t want to isolate myself from everyone who thinks differently than I do. But I know I need to set up some boundaries.

I’ve been praying about this. Here are some of the solutions I’ve found:

I want to maintain friendships with people who helped me when I desperately needed it. Maybe we’ll never be close friends, but that’s fine, because we can still have fruitful discussions where no question is off-limits. We end up agreeing to disagree, but we understand each other a bit more.

Conversely, there have been people in my life who dismiss liberals as butt-hurt snowflakes simply for disagreeing with a Facebook post; people who refuse to listen to different perspectives, and rudely shut them down (I should point out that liberals are guilty of doing this to conservatives, too — but in my world, it’s generally been the other way around).

I don’t have any guilt about weeding out the people who have shown themselves to be devoid of empathy. I don’t feel any guilt about putting distance between myself, and people who are completely closed off to learning anything new (especially anything outside their own experiences). I don’t feel any guilt about ending discussions with people who refuse to listen to gentle correction, if it’s applicable.

That is where I now draw the line. It’s not just the beliefs people hold, but the way they express them, that tips me off to red character flags.

In the end, I’ve reasoned that any relationships that drain my mental health are not worth it. If I have to constantly walk on eggshells to avoid a fight; if I’m making a sincere effort to understand their views, but they won’t extend me the same courtesy, I’m done.

I will maintain civility, of course. But the days of one-on-one coffee dates are over.

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