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When I first began to lament the absence of values in politics many years ago, I was told, in so many words, that’s politics. Get over it. Politics has followed its own set of rules forever, and that was simply the way things were. I should hold my nose and vote for the least bad candidate.
Whether or not that is still true today is something we can discuss. Of more importance to me is the role politics and values play in my relationships. The people on the Left with whom I’m friends are caring people; they aren’t violent or angry. In fact, I love them in part because of their kindness (and for tolerating me!)
But I’ve become uncomfortably aware that their intelligence and kindness may not be enough to maintain our friendships. They have taken positions politically and are resoundingly on the Left. There was a time when I simply said, well, we have so much in common otherwise that we’ll be okay if we simply avoid politics.
I’m not so sure if that’s true anymore.
Since politics and governance seem to be inextricably enmeshed, I’m finding that my friends on the Left have decided that anyone who isn’t on the Left doesn’t belong in politics or governance. Of course, one could say that I feel the same way. I think the difference between us is that the values I hold, not necessarily as a Conservative, but a person who calls herself a conservative, call on me to live my values in a very explicit way. I don’t believe in forcing my values on others, but I also don’t want them to force theirs on me. Due to their values that they expect to manifest in government in a restrictive and despotic way, they are condemning my values and demanding that I compromise them for the “good of others.”
The problems arise when their choices not only limit my choices, but imprison others, too.
Let me further explain my dilemma with my own friends, some of whom I’ve discussed on this site. I will describe my understanding of values by using the Moral Foundations Theory of Jonathan Haidt. I’m going to apply it liberally in order to adapt it to the extreme polarizations that we are experiencing today, so mine is not a pure application. But I think it will be helpful in understanding the strains that are arising in my relationships, and perhaps in yours. Haidt’s model includes Care/Harm; Fairness/Cheating; Loyalty/Betrayal; Authority/Subversion; and Sanctity/Degradation. I will compare the Left and Right through these categories.
- Care/Harm: Although the Left supposedly lauds the care of people of color as a priority, they are carrying out their goals by chastising, ridiculing, defaming, and blaming people who are not in those categories, in other words white people, for the current state of the country, especially for what they call systemic racism. To try to ostracize the majority of the people in this country through this argument is unconscionable. Those on the Right believe that we should help our friends and neighbors, but we are not responsible for hurting the entire society, particularly for something we’ve never done. All of my friends on the Left believe this racism exists. If I asked them if I was part of systemic racism, I suspect they would say (apologetically) that I am.
- Fairness/Cheating: In order to accomplish their goals, the Left is prepared to redistribute the money of everyone. The “rich” in this country (which still has not been defined) have more than they need and should provide more to those who have less. This could be done through taxes. The fairness comes in regarding the need for all of us to contribute, but not in determining the amount the government should be able to steal from us. From my perspective, fairness is a factor when I point out that we all have the opportunity to rise above our current spiritual and economic state in this country. In fact, if we simply give people money, they lose the opportunity to grow in their own self-confidence and self-reliance. If I were to ask my friends about my particular situation, they would probably state that I should at least contribute to those who have less—whatever that means.
- Loyalty/Betrayal: Loyalty can be experienced at many levels: loyalty to the country, the state, the community and our friends and family. Those on the Left that I know would insist they are loyal to the United States, and in the next breath list all the ways we have betrayed our fellow citizens. They would state that our errors far outweigh our achievements. Their loyalty to friends and family would only go as far as the compliance of those groups to the Left’s causes; in the face of disagreement, the Left would probably at a minimum call the Right misguided, at worst, evil and hateful. If I asked my friends how they felt about my loyalty, they would probably see me as a loyal friend; they would probably see my patriotism regarding the country as primitive and distasteful.
- Authority/subversion: In recent months, the Left has made their disdain for authority clear. Efforts to defund the police, attack law enforcement and willingness to burn down buildings or justify the actions of those who do are frightening. Rule of law is meaningless when social justice is a priority. Although burning buildings is terrible, from their perspective these acts are understandable given the state of the country. If I asked my friends about my support for law enforcement, they would reject my information about how law enforcement has been unfairly criticized and targeted.
- Sanctity/degradation: Sanctity has no place in the secular Left. If anything is sacred, it is their belief in their cause. Their leaders are idolized, their goals are sacred. Of my three friends, only one is religious; the other two believe in “spirit.” I believe that my religious friend focuses on those tenets that are congruent with the Left, and ignores or re-defines those that are in conflict with it. The other two have no concern about “serving G-d,” or deferring to a higher authority, since He doesn’t factor in their lives. We don’t discuss religion, since with the two non-believers, they aren’t much interested.
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You may have a few questions about my analysis. First, why don’t I ask my friends how they feel, rather than guess? I already know their Leftist beliefs, because at times we’ve discussed them, enough for me to know where they stand. But if I asked them how they felt about me, they would probably tell me, but it would be awkward. At times, one has said I’m an exception to the typical Rightist. Besides, in one way it doesn’t matter what they think of me. What matters is how I see them as friends.
My major questions are, do I believe I should remain close to people whose values are so different than my own? How do I feel about people who are ill-informed about the facts regarding the current state of our country? Finally, am I prepared over the long-term to avoid discussing issues that are so important to me in order to maintain the semblance of close relationships? I know there are people who are friends with people who have very different values than their own. If I consider ending those friendships, rest assured I will find out what their values are, rather than speculate.
I’m just not sure that I want to maintain those friendships.
Have you lost friendships permanently due to values differences? If not, do you think that might happen in your own life?Published in