Why can’t we be friends? The political divide on-campus

Oren Brown considers why it might be tricky to be friends with someone who has different political views

Oren Brown
3rd November 2020
Image: Wikimedia Commons
In the frenzied tumult of today’s political landscape, the divide between left and right feels stretched to breaking point. In a university environment such as Newcastle, political opinion is diverse, passionate and polarising. This begs the question: can students befriend those with contrasting political views on-campus?

2020 has been the most socially and politically turbulent year in recent memory. As the shambling remains of Brexit meanders towards the transition deadline, the British government fumbles and u-turns their way through a global pandemic. Meanwhile, a historic US election hangs in the balance and the Black Lives Matter movement continues to galvanise millions into protesting racial discrimination. Whatever your view on these events, it is unlikely that you sit on the fence. A line has been drawn in the sand. In the eyes of the public, you either support something, or you oppose it.

Social media polarises us and forces us to pick sides

Of course, most of the time, things aren’t so black and white. Social media exacerbates things by encouraging polarised thinking, forcing us to ‘pick a side’ when there are plenty of grey areas. When it comes to issues such as inequality and austerity, though, a person’s beliefs still play a crucial role in how they think. That's true with or without the influence of modern society’s tribalism.

To many, political affiliation is more than just a topic of debate: it is a trait of personality. The political leaning of an individual can reflect what kind of person they are, what values they hold, and what they see as right and wrong. Because of this, friendships between those with contrasting views can be precarious from the very start. 

It's one thing to debate with someone with whom you disagree, but building a lasting friendship is a different thing entirely

Students are typically more politically engaged than the average person. As a result, they are at the very centre of this issue. Whilst it is certainly possible to conduct civil debate with those with whom you disagree, it is another thing entirely to build a lasting friendship. This is especially true if you oppose their beliefs on moral grounds. Despite this, there are still benefits to befriending someone of differing views. There is an opportunity to educate or be educated. Sometimes, a friendship can revolve around a single topic, such as music or sport, without ever touching on politics.

Ultimately, there are several things to take into consideration. Severity of disagreements, the political engagement of the individuals, and the various other elements of a friendship that bind it together. I personally struggle with the idea of trusting and supporting someone whose core beliefs go directly against my own. However, each situation is unique, and so is each person’s outlook on friendship.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

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AUTHOR: Oren Brown
English student, or something.

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