I was recently told, by someone that considers themselves an astute observer of people, that one of my friendships had no foundation because we often disagree. Not only was this a hurtful comment, it also takes aim at a principle, that like friendship, I hold dear.
That principle is that we should not exist in a social or political echo chamber. Nor do we fundamentally or even partially have to agree with our friends about everything or, indeed, anything. To surround oneself with people of differing opinions who are willing to debate them serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it allows you to consider why you hold the opinion you do and the need to defend your position either strengthens your conviction or crumbles it, leading to new avenues of thought and consideration of your prejudices. Secondly, the opportunity to hear someone eloquently explain an opposing position is educational and allows you to better understand people, and consider why they may hold the opinion they do.
To live in an echo-chamber of group-affirming agreement creates lazily held unrobust opinions and can be dangerous. If a group is never challenged, never has to defend its position on an issue it can become a breeding ground for ignorance and prejudice. Especially in today’s world of opinion polarisation fuelled by social media and data manipulation.
Friendship is what binds us together, it crosses cultures, genders, sexualities, classes, races and every other form of artificial sections society feels the need to define and divide us by.
Now, if you took moments from any friendship out of context, you may be forgiven for thinking that disharmony of opinion was not conducive to friendship. An example, that must have misled the owner of the original cynical comment, springs to mind. We are weaving through traffic in Mumbai in a sweltering bus, it had been a long day, and an even longer debate; my friend curtly finishes the discussion with ‘frankly Alice, if you think that, you have more in common with Isis than civilisation’.
The truth is, even with friends of different opinions there is usually more in common than each are likely to admit, and these amount to values. The centrality of friendship, learning, humour, kindness and all the other quirks that come with. I think that these things are the foundation of a person, so does it matter if they (wrongly) don’t believe in philosophical free will and (again wrongly) think Gandhi had nothing to do with Indian Independence?
I remember meeting my friend, and after the mandatory Facebook adding, a large, red, glaring pro-Corbyn article popped out at me. I remember turning to him and saying ‘we aren’t going to be friends’. I will graciously admit that this is one of the rare instances where I have been wrong, and rarer still, happy about it. How many of my opinions would have been left unchallenged and I admit, unchanged, if I did not have friends with different opinions.