3.19.2010

Real Friends Don't Let Friends Agree with Them All the Time



Earlier this week, I caught the Facebook status update of a high school friend of mine, in which he lamented the fact that he had been "defriended" by someone who he had been having a disagreement with online about the current health care debate. I don't know any context beyond this one update, but it saddened me to read this. Real friends are friends not because they always agree with you; and having only friends who agree with you is a sure way to become narrow-minded and self-congratulating.

Alas, a lot of this happens in this country. "The Big Sort" is a recent book that discusses this phenomenon of people congregating near other like-minded people, to the detriment of open and civil discourse. California is just the most prominent example of the radicalizing effect of gerrymandering, in which the real elections are at the primary level, thus rewarding extreme positions rather than a more compromising, moderate perspective. And the 24/7/365 news cycle has become so glutted that only the most outlandish views get staying power, further cementing our incomplete stereotypes of what "the other side" thinks.

I recall a few years back waiting in the lobby to meet a friend for lunch. When he came out to meet me and saw me reading a book on Ronald Reagan, he practically slapped the book out of my hand and proceeded to question me loudly as to how I could possibly be reading about him. Yet whether or not you think President Reagan had any redeeming qualities, or even if you think he had none, you have to think that reading a biography about him is a good thing, as it relates to being informed; but my friend would have me do no such thing.

"Defriending" those with opposing beliefs on Facebook would seem to be all the more puzzling, given the generally open and genial nature of the social networking platform. Sure, I've read my share of inappropriately incendiary and close-minded dreck on FB; but, in general, it's hardly a setting where a cordial disagreement about a hot issue can't take place.

Alas, we stroke ourselves in the wrong way when we only huddle up with those who agree with us. Their affirmations make us feel good that we are indeed right; and our rejections of those different from us make us feel we are being doctrinally "pure." But isn't American democracy founded on open discourse, political parties, and peaceful transfer of power, and spirited opposition? Bah, but who needs that patriotic crap, when you can feel good about what you believe in and get some good licks in against "the enemy."

As for me, I'm going to try to remember that every debate has two sides, neither side has a monopoly on the truth, and the goal of an argument may not be for one side to win but rather for both sides to be better for having exchanged ideas and concepts. And, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to make a connection to Jesus, who bore the snickering and judgment of the established religious leaders of his day, who wondered aloud why he would associate with society's marginalized and sinful; never mind that their faith heritage spoke often of helping the outcasted, and not about holy huddling.

"The Big Sort"? "Defriending" those who disagree with you? Talking ill of a curious rabbi who dared bread bread with the most scandalously immoral people around? It is tempting to be like this. Let us instead value diversity of opinion, and be humble enough to believe that those who disagree with us may have something to teach us now and then.

Post a Comment