Last night I had a conversation with a 15 year old girl who is contemplating what it means to have friends whose morals and beliefs are dramatically different than your own. She is wondering what the ramifications are of having friends who don’t feel as strongly as you do about the human rights of other people on our planet. And she is agonizing over the decisions she will have to make about who to spend her time with and who not.
I told her parents that these were decisions that at 15 I didn’t consider. I knew then that some of what I believed quietly in my heart and spirit did not line up with what my parents, siblings, and even my friends believed Even when I went away to college I kept most of my “subversive” thoughts to myself.
What Emma is afraid of and what I was afraid of are not the same thing. Emma’s fear is that people she spends time with will hurt others…that their bigotry, hatred, and desire for dominance will be something that she is thought to agree with. Her fear is that because of her association with those , she will hurt another living soul and not show them the love of God that is so important to her.
I was just afraid of being alone. Of having no friends. My fear was based on a significant terror of abandonment, rejection, and solitude.
Thankfully what I know of abandonment, rejection, and solitude is vast now. And the one thing of which I am certain is that no one has died from those things…ever. The second thing I know is that for most of us those things are temporary.
Though 21 years separate us…my fear and Emma’s are indeed the same in now. I never want my association with someone else’s bigotry or misogyny or jealousy or fear to cause another human to endure one more moment of suffering. Worse yet…should that in turn cause a person to turn away from God for fear that the creator of the universe has the same nature as the creation, there would be no apology great enough for that loss.
This topic is a sensitive one to many during this political season. I believe that people have disagreed…and disagreed vehemently…about politics and religion for centuries. The change in the air is that more and more people have a voice. Because of social media. Because of the change in freedoms for minorities, women, and those in poverty over the past 50 years. Because as our consciousness opens up to the world around us, we are realizing that it is more dangerous to keep silent than to speak up. More dangerous for the children, the animals, the weak, the ill, the oppressed…those who need our voice to speak courageously on their behalf.
The question becomes…who do we try to influence? Do we remain friends with people different than us in an effort to influence them for change? Is there a point at which we call off the friendship and move on? And can we do so politely and with love? Or do we stick it out in hopes of change? I don’t know all the answers.
I do know that I never want anyone to stay my friend out of pity or some desire to change me. I don’t want people who actually don’t like me to be my friend. I don’t want anyone to feel an obligation to our friendship because of shared history or genetic bond. And I don’t think ending a friendship is something done by snipping a bond and walking away. It is a question that each of us must face in a world where we know our friends opinions on EVERYTHING even as they are thinking it.
These are discussions to be had over time…but here’s my simple plan for today:
Talking on behalf of someone in need is courageous
Talking respectfully to someone about a disagreement is admirable
Talking about someone else is boring
I choose to get only 66% of this equation correctly