To Friend or Not to Friend

When values clash, can people be friends?

Different cultures, different values, different people. Pixabay Olga Ozik

The Friendships that Never Happened

Yesterday I had coffee with a friend in George, South Africa. She told me that her neighbor had come to visit and was upset because their son hadn’t been in touch for a year. He had just vanished. A year previously, he had arrived home from Hong Kong and told his parents that he had fallen in love with an Asian girl. The mother had told her son that a marriage was not possible because the girl was inferior. Her son had then asked if they could talk about it. Her husband had said no. The next morning, the son had packed his things, taken a flight back to Hong Kong, and they had never heard from him since.

Going back some eight or nine years to my time in San Diego, a friend told me that she was having great difficulties with her parents and relatives. They were all heavy Trump supporters, and she was a democrat. They were facebook friends, and the ‘repartee’ was very distressing. In the past year, she has disassociated from them all. It was a war between her inner peace and strong emotional relationships. The price of the relationships was too high.

In another incident, I met two guys through dancing. I enjoyed dancing jitterbug with them, and it’s a fact of life that when one finds good dance partners, over a period of time, a camaraderie develops. The one guy was a Scot and the other English (I was living in London at the time). Both of them were racists, and I had previously been dating a ‘person of color.’ They both knew that. They also both made the most vile racist remarks to me — continuously. I discontinued the association with both men.

Conflict and Tolerance

Across earth, in our multi-cultural world, stressors in relationships and friendships have reached an all time high. The divides have become insurmountable. Yet tolerance, as my late father told me so many years ago, is the badge of a civilized man.

Tolerance, of course, is neither a value nor a moral so much as a peace agreement. In order to avoid conflict, it says, “I will accept that your values are different to mine if you will accept that my values are different to yours. That way, we can agree to live in peace together.”

Why Value Systems Clash

It appears that internationally, there is conflict between those who have conservative values and those who have liberal values. At the heart of these two different value systems lie two different ways of seeing the world.

The conservative value system says that the individual is solely responsible for his own welfare and survival, and the political and economic system has no bearing on it. This is a traditional belief system that upholds hierarchical class systems which, in themselves, are not only discriminatory, but hurtful to many people in many different ways.

The liberal value system says that the political and economic system has a powerful influence on people’s well being and survival, and that human beings are a social species who work together for the common good of all. This is a fairly recent adaptation and it does away (or wants to do away with) hierarchical systems.

Can the two live together?

It appears not. Populism is a class war, and right now a class war is raging as conservatives decide that an authoritarian government would simply legislate ‘the others’ away while the liberals are battling for inclusive, welfare systems. Friends and family caught up in this melee find their bonds broken. Neither can live with the other.

Friendships are formed through shared experiences and values. People feel safe with each other when their belief systems, morality, ethics, culture, interests, etc. are similar to each other. They can have long conversations without fear of offending each other and without there being a sort of outrage that one person supports abortion and the other does not.

In general, friendships do not develop between people who are too different. On the rare occasions that it does, there will be one or two strong bonds where people do connect — perhaps they share a mutual friend or they fought a war together in another time and place.

Opposites, by the way, do not attract. They compensate for the lacks in each other, and when one person or both begin to erase those lacks, the relationship begins to fail.

Living Alongside Each Other

There are atheists and believers, swingers and monogamists, introverts and extroverts, black people and white people, pink people with spots and yellow people with stripes, swimmers and walkers, silly idiots and brilliant innovators — each to his own tribe. The danger, of course, is the divide.

We have to find a way to live peacefully with each other. That does not mean we have to be friends. It’s quite clear that we can’t be. We can, however, accept that while other people don’t share the same lifestyle or values that we do, that they are still entitled to a place in the sun for the simple reason that they are human.

We have reached the final frontier. Our world has grown too integrated for there to be apartheid. We no longer have a world where the English live in England, the Germans live in Germany, the Africans live in Africa, and a great many live in ignorance.

The only way to resolve this is through a progressive system that supports all of humanity, taking into consideration our differences, our difficulties, and our potentials. This can only be done politically and economically. When the infrastructure supports humanity, then humanity can live peacefully together without warfare and wounding words . In other words, conservatism and authoritarianism cannot resolve this problem. They are merely delaying a resolution through force.

Equality of resources, justice for all before the law, and safety from authoritarian regimes will remove most of the stressors. When people do not fear for their safety and survival, it’s easier to live and let others live as well.

Global citizen. Author. Thinker. Polymath. Climate change. Progressive. Loves photography, beauty, dancing, and believes benevolence is a survival mechanism.

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