What to Do When Your Friend Has Different Political Views
The Do's and Don'ts of Navigating a Friendship With Differing Political Views
- Listen to what your friend has to say and take a minute to think before responding irrationally.
- Be the first to apologize if an argument gets heated.
- Stay open to hearing a different opinion or view even if you're pretty sure you won't agree with it.
- Put your friend on blast or purposely embarrass them in front of your other friends, whether in person or on social media.
- Try to speak for a group you don't belong to.
- Be afraid to end a friendship if the person is using their political beliefs to justify hurtful, unkind or derogatory behavior.
I grew up in a pretty evangelical environment and though I don't fit in there anymore, I still cherish a lot of the friendships that were forged there. Sometimes though, these friends and I don't exactly see eye-to-eye when it comes to politics, especially since the 2016 election. That wouldn't be as big of a deal if it weren't for the blaring posts floating all over social media - I can't unknow what my friends believe and vice versa, which creates a lot of awkwardness during times of political tension.
So what should you do if you and your friend don't agree on political and social issues taking up the airwaves these days? Here's what I've learned about navigating friendships in a political climate influenced by social media and 24/7 news coverage.
Dealing on Social Media
Hide Your Friend's Content
When it comes to seeing posts from your friend who has different views than you, things can get annoying - fast. At first, when my best friend from high school started regularly sharing posts referring to her personal beliefs on abortion I'd just grab a bowl of popcorn and munch while half the internet clawed one another's eyes out. Then, after a while, it was hard to just sit back and observe without getting involved.
This is where hiding your friend's posts becomes the single smartest thing you can do save your friendship or at least your sanity.
It doesn't mean you're unfriending them, and it doesn't even mean they'll know you hid their content, all it means is that when you login into Facebook, you won't see their posts unless you specifically go to their individual page and scroll through their feed.
Here's how to hide a friend on Facebook, without unfriending them:
- Login to your Facebook.
- Type your friend's name into the search bar to get to their profile page.
- Once you're on their page, you'll see that on their cover photo, there's the little gray box that says "Friends" and next to that is a little gray box that says "Following".
- Click the "Following" tab and select "Unfollow".
There's that's it! Now you won't have to see their posts anymore but you'll still remain friends. At least in the Facebook sense.
Refrain From Purposely Embarassing Your Friend
Look, I know it's tempting to call out a friend who's using questionable sources to back up their less-than-stellar arguments against [insert political issue here]. However, what I've learned the hard way is that if you embarrass your friends on Facebook by pointing out their inability to properly research something, it doesn't help them to change their opinion - and it can open up a whole can of worms.
During the 2016 election season my cousin was posting a lot of stuff from InfoWars. I was replying with a lot of reasons why I thought she shouldn't trust InfoWars. Guess what happened? She didn't suddenly agree with my point of view. Nope, instead we got into an argument for all of our friends and family to see and we both ended up looking childish and mean. Now, I don't even remember what those posts were about, but I remember how much we hurt each other trying to prove each other wrong.
It was terrible. Don't do it.
[On calling someone racist or fascist during a political debate] Those aren’t real arguments. Those are attempts to discredit the other. So, that’s the more adversarial, confrontational, zero sum, or you might even say negative sum – the more I can hurt you, the better I am. And that’s what our politics has descended more into than it used to be.— Jonathan Haidt of CivilPolitics.org
Remember That Facebook is an Echo Chamber
That means that in that space, you exist with a bunch of other people who just reinforce your ideas about what you believe - and the same goes for your friends and their friends with the same beliefs. Here's a few reasons why this happens:
- Through Facebook groups we get to know others who think about things the same way we do, and that's wonderful, but it also limits our exposure to those of us who have different views and experiences than we do. Essentially, by joining these groups, we're curating our social environment to only include those who will agree with us without question.
- By following only a handful of news sources you're confined to an unintentional bias.
- You can hide friends who don't believe the same things you do, customizing your feed to only include stories told from a narrative that's palpable to you.
I'm not sure that this is much different in the real world. Remember how I said I grew up evangelical? Until I went to college, the majority of my social interractions were with people who existed within the same evangelical culture that I did which limited my perspective on how the world outside that culture thought and functioned.
Social media is just a convenient digital version of this.
If You Can't Have a Civil Conversation, Don't Have One at All
So many times I've encountered debates or arguments with friends on social media, in person or through text where I just want to start slapping titles like "Racist" across their forehead. But what you say can't be taken back and in the heat of the moment it may not be helping your argument and it might actually be reinforcing the other person's negative idea about it.
As Jonathan Haidt of CivilPolitics.org told Audrey Hamilton in this interview for the American Psychological Association, "When you’re talking with people and arguing and disagreeing with them, that’s fine, that’s great. That’s what politics is supposed to be. But when what you’re saying is aimed at discrediting their sincerity and decency, not rebutting their arguments, but saying 'yeah, you’re just saying that because you’re bribed by the Koch brothers.' Or you know, 'you’re a fascist, you’re a racist.' Those aren’t real arguments. Those are attempts to discredit the other. So, that’s the more adversarial, confrontational, zero sum, or you might even say negative sum – the more I can hurt you, the better I am. And that’s what our politics has descended more into than it used to be."
Things to Consider Before Responding to a Friend with Different Political Beliefs
Ask Yourself If Your Comment Is Important and Helpful
Before you go commenting on or responding to a friend who's just said something you don't agree with, ask yourself if what you have to say is helpful. How can you tell if your opinion would be helpful? Here's some guidelines I follow:
- If you are a literal expert on the subject (involved in a specific career field or you have a degree on the topic) then your comments might be helpful.
- You have a factual source to correct a piece of misinformation.
- The subject isn't opinion or rumor based. If your friends are arguing about Ted Cruz being the Zodiac Killer - this is a rumor and you should just move along and maybe go water your houseplants because that's a lot more productive.
- Your comment can help another person or group who has been unjustly attacked to feel less alone.
Are You Trying to Speak for a Group That You Don't Belong To?
A few years back I was in a Facebook group for writers in my niche when a discussion about this Dove ad was started by a white woman who was offended for women of color. This proceeded into a day long argument between the white members of this group.
When I gently suggested that the white men and women of the group take a conversational step back and allow the women of color within the group to share their own feelings on the ad and whether or not they were offended (and why) I started an all-out war.
The women of color in this group said that with all of the noise from the offended white people ringing so loud there was no way their own voices - the group at the center of the argument - would be heard anyway.
Moral of the story: Don't speak for a group that you don't belong to and if this is something you tend to do, stop. You may mean well but when we try to advocate for a group we don't belong to we steal their voice and exploit their marginalization for our own gratification.
Yes, you can be an ally, yes you can stick up for someone who is being obviously bullied just as you would for your friend on the playground. However, if the lines are blurred and, as with the Dove ad, the message is open to interpretation, close your mouth, remove your fingers from the keyboard, and let the members of the affected group have their turn to voice their feelings. You might actually learn something about how to better advocate for them by you know, listening.
You may mean well but when we try to advocate for a group we don't belong to we steal their voice and exploit their marginalization for our own gratification.
Should You Stay Friends With Someone Who Has Different Beliefs Than You Do?
There isn't a simple answer to this. It's not usually something that can be taken lightly and there's certainly graceful ways to go about ending or at least distancing a friendship.
Take for instance my cousin and her affinity for InfoWars. I love my cousin and she's important to me but it turns out that we disagree on almost every hot-button issue. I didn't end our friendship but I've limited it from hanging out regularly to merely sharing funny memes through text while avoiding every serious topic, including and especially universal healthcare. I continue this friendship because underneath our differences, we still enjoy each other and have learned from our past to be better listeners and to say sorry when we're wrong.
What if You Have a Friend Who is Just Plain Evil?
You know what I mean. Someone who doesn't just have differing political viewpoints but whose views cross the line from being obnoxious to unethical (like saying hateful and derogatory things about a particular group of people) or who, even more confusing, express views that are in line with your own but through their actions prove otherwise?
Cut them out!
I had a friend from school who shared my views on most political and social issues and while we bonded over a specific brand of feminism I found out that she'd been spreading an unflattering (and untrue) rumor about me and one of our professors.
You can bet I dropped that friendship pretty quickly while a slew of other classmates and friends continue to hail her as a social justice warrior because of what she posts on social media, despite the laundry list of unjust actions she takes in person.
If you have a friend who is just kind of a horrible person beneath the surface and who uses their political ideologies to back up that aspect of their personality then yes, you should break off that friendship and make room for friends who, regardless of political affiliation or opinion, are true, open and kind.
How to Tell If a Friend's Political Views Cross The Line
Here's some ways you can gauge if it's time to unfriend-in-real-life:
- They post or talk about political and social movements just to start arguments within your friend group.
- You're only friends with them out of convenience (a classmate, a coworker, a relative, etc.), not because you have similar views and interests.
- They use derogatory language when describing a group of people.
- They use their political affiliations to influence and take advantage of a vulnerable person(s).
- They're completely closed off to a civil debate or conversation that veers outside their own bubble of belief.
Politics and Friendship
Do you think it's okay to stay friends with someone who has different political views than you?
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Em Clark