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It’s OK to disagree with your friends

| Thursday, February 13, 2020

The other day, my friends and I talked about the opinions we allow our friends to have. 

To be fair to them, I understand that my position is an ideal which I very rarely meet myself. But I think the above framing of the issue puts it in the most accurate light: what, exactly, are we willing to let our friends believe? At what point do we stop considering people as friends because of their opinions? 

I try to hold myself to the following standard: I will not allow another’s opinions to harm our friendship unless those opinions reflect a deep lack of integrity in that person. For example, I believe casual racism is a result of either serious ignorance or a serious lack of a moral backbone. If someone I consider a friend is casually racist, and I don’t consider it to be a matter of ignorance, that person would no longer be my friend.

That might sound harsh, but I’ve found that this is actually a more forgiving standard than many others tend to hold, consciously or not. My conversation the other day centered around friendships with people who did not support same-sex marriage; everyone in the conversation did so, and a few were surprised to here that I am totally willing to be friends with those who do not. Especially at a school like Notre Dame, which prizes its Catholic identity, it is difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to cut off everyone who believes in the traditional definition of marriage. 

Which brings us to the broader issue: What do we have to gain from friends with whom we already totally agree? I cannot comprehend how one can expect to learn from their peers with whom they share the same beliefs. We do not become stronger in our convictions without those convictions being challenged; we do not come to the truth except when we start from falsehood; and we do not learn that which we already know. 

Some might reply that they agree with their friends on the “fundamentals,” but not on everything. In theory, I am not sure I disagree with this mindset. In practice, I think our society has flipped the “fundamentals” and the “not-fundamentals.” 

For example, if you ask your friends whether they believe in objective morals, or what they think of the respective roles of church and state, or how they understand “the good,” I highly doubt you might end your friendship based on their answers. Maybe it’s just the philosophy major in me, but I certainly consider these questions to be more “fundamental” than one’s opinions on same-sex marriage, abortion or President Trump. 

For some reason, Americans seem to value one’s positions on a handful of salient social issues more highly than one’s convictions on the truly fundamental. This makes the number of people unwilling to have friends with whom they disagree all the more devastating. If we cannot disagree in good faith on the matters of import here-and-now, we will never collectively move forward on the big-picture questions, which need solid answers today more than ever.

Vince Mallett is a junior at Notre Dame majoring in philosophy with a minor in Constitutional Studies. He is proud to hail from Carroll Hall and northern New Jersey. Vince can be reached at [email protected] or @vince_mallett on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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