Across the Divide
By Wil Forbis
Oct 1, 2019
I recall, years ago, a friend of mine describing his friendship with a guy who was a hardcore Christian. My friend, an atheist, said with a chuckle, "he's a nice guy and we get along great despite that fact that he's convinced I'm going to hell."
The comment was a subtle but rich observation about a conflict that almost everyone experiences but few know how to address. In life, we come across all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. And humans are actually quite good at making friends with people differing from them in modes of race, nationality, gender, religion and, at least in a bygone era, political beliefs. Most of us also have moral systems we subscribe to. Some of these moral systems sternly condemn various behaviors, even fairly common behaviors. As a result, a lot of people end up friends with people whom they fundamentally disagree with on moral issues.
This conflict has always intrigued me. How does an ethical vegetarian---a person who believes the killing and eating of conscious creatures to be an abomination---maintain a friendship with those of us who eat meat? Wouldn't this be like me being friends with a cannibal?
Or, how does an anti-abortion adherent---someone who believes that abortion is murder and that children are being killed by the thousands every year---maintain friendship with someone who either actively disagrees with this point of view or is at least indifferent to it? Is this not akin to, say, a French citizen in World War II maintaining good terms with a Nazi officer?
Or, to flip it around, how does an abortion supporter---someone who believes abortion restrictions impede on the most basic rights of a women---maintain friendship with someone either opposed to or blasť about such rights?
Or, to pull an example from the headlines, how does a climate change activist---someone convinced (correctly I believe) that humanity's current path could lead to vast societal upheaval---maintain friendships with those of us who drive cars, catch flights, eat meat, etc?
And let's not avoid the elephant in the room. How does a Trump opponent maintain a friendship with a Trump supporter. According to this online commenter, such a practice should be verboten.Recently, I discovered that one of my oldest and best friends, a highly educated and thoughtful person, had rejected a lifetime of beliefs and knowledge and had voted for Trump, mainly over the immigration issue. We had a long, hard talk. It was not without great emotional turmoil that I concluded to suspend my contact with him. I cannot go through the motions of friendship, which is all they would be at this point, with someone who had changed so much, whose heart had hardened and whose judgment had become so severe as to look past the evils staring him right in the face.
I suspect similar fissures are springing up in friendships all over the place these days.
What does one do when faced with the possibility of friendship with one's moral opposite? The obvious answer is to foreswear such friendships, but that presents several problems.
For starters, it makes working and interacting with anyone outside your moral tribe very difficult. Can you be work alongside someone you disagree with? Can you share membership in a club or sports team with people you disagree with? (Some would say, yes you can, but only if your every interaction is stern-faced and humorless. You know the type.)
The second problem is that, well, life is kind of funny. Sometimes you meet people and have every reason to dislike them but you can't help but being charmed by them. Or you meet someone, find them totally engaging and only later discover they are are fervent advocate of cannibalism. People have a way of sneaking past the walls we put up.
And most of us have had friends who suddenly change their views on a topic and take on a completely different moral character. In some cases, it's our spouse! Do we end all contact (as the Trump opponent above did)?
Finally, I assume most of my readers know people who only stay within the lanes of their moral tribe. I don't know about you but I feel something akin to pity for these folks. They seem so limited in their experiences, so devout in their beliefs. They suffer from a complete lack of one of the great gifts any mind can experience, that of self-doubt. (What do such people talk about over coffee I wonder? Do they simply express an opinion on a major topic and then sit around saying , "I agree, I agree!"?)
That said, we must draw some lines, correct? We can't just be friends with anyone? I wouldn't be friends with Hitler would I?
Well, in my case, I dunno. Back in my days working at a car wash in Seattle I was friendly with many men I knew had committed murder. As I wrote about here, I was an acquaintance of one guy I knew to be a white separatist. To this day I'm friends with people across the political spectrum. (For the record, I'm friends with many Trump supporters.)
I'm not advocating my way of doing things here. In fact, I concede that cancelling friendship with your ideological opponents is far more consistent behavior than the seeming haphazard and rule-less way I judge people.
But I also can't help feel that dividing ourselves into strict groups and declaring war on anyone we disagree with... well, this can't possibly work. For any society to survive, there needs to be a certain forgiveness, a certain determined ignorance of the flaws of other people. Because we've seen the alternatives. And they aren't pretty.
What do you think? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!
Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.