October 13, 2016

Would you end a Friendship over this Presidential Campaign?

Flickr/Amanda Wood

According to a recent poll carried out by Monmouth University, approximately 7% of registered voters have lost a friend over the American presidential campaign.

I would hazard a guess that the number is actually much higher, especially when I scroll through social media and see numerous posts that signify panic, disorder and chaos floating around—and it only seems to be getting worse.

I regularly see posts saying, “If you support X, Y or Z please unfriend me.”

For those who use social media, it is not easy to avoid seeing the political posts that appear on our timelines. While we can choose to flip past and not engage in them, it can also be an opportunity to pay attention to how people are feeling and to become more aware of the unrest that is simmering away as election day draws nearer.

However, it seems that civil freedom of speech is not always welcomed when it comes to politics, and many people have such strong views that they are not satisfied with just reading through posts without having their say.

I have read a variety of comments where people have started out trying to air their opinion about the candidate they support by calmly speaking out about their thoughts, feelings and political opinions—and within seconds, it turns from pleasant to quite disturbing as others join in seeing an opportunity to vent their anger or frustration and express their opposing beliefs.

Although most of us have heard the saying, “Never discuss religion and politics over the dinner table”—when it is a subject that is potentially life-changing, it is difficult not to feel tempted to respond when we read or hear something that could potentially affect us. Especially if we feel that things are moving in a direction we believe is unsafe or harmful for our own future, or that of our children’s or society as a whole.

I feel that many are currently afraid to raise concerns about where their country is heading, particularly on social media, as doing so is volatile and will likely cause an immediate divide, potentially bringing about the end of friendships—and not just virtually on Facebook, but in our daily lives too.

With 1.71 billion active users on Facebook spending 6% of their day checking posts, it is clear that when we log in, there is a good chance we may witness someone airing their political views.

One thing for sure is that many feel extremely strongly about this campaign, and approximately 70% of American voters feel it is bringing out the worst in people. While 68% of Hilary Clinton’s supporters say that the Trump camp are to blame for using harsh language, 67% of Donald Trump’s supporters say that both sides are equally to blame.

The split of voters, which goes pretty much down the middle—with polls showing that 48.3% of people are in favor of Clinton, while 42.5% are in favor of Trump—means that it is highly likely that everyone is friends (or at least an acquaintance) with someone who plans to vote the opposite way from them.

Although ballot voting is secretive on the day, many are feeling compelled to share their views beforehand to try to raise awareness out of fear of what may happen if the candidate they oppose is given the role as President of the United States.

Facebook algorithms already ensure that much of what appears on our timelines reflects our ideological preferences, so there is a good chance that we will see more of the candidate we support, rather than the views of those who support a different candidate.

We may be the one who has unfriended someone, or we may have been unfriended by someone else. Either way, politics is dividing many of us, rather than bringing us together to put everything on the table and try to compassionately understand one another’s views and beliefs. Or if we have no interest in hearing other people’s views, we can simply unfollow their posts during the election campaign, rather than lose a friendship.

I understand that many people think it is of fundamental importance that those they are close to align with their morals, ethics and beliefs in some way. However, if we looked behind the closed doors of anyone’s personal life, there may be many things we don’t agree with or wouldn’t do ourselves—yet, we wouldn’t judge them the same way we do for their political opinions.

It seems that posting on Facebook isn’t changing anyone’s judgment of a particular candidate, but it does appear to be changing how we judge one another.

It has also made me wonder how many families are fractured, or if romantic relationships are also on the rocks, due to vastly different candidate preferences. And would people refuse to go on a first date with someone purely based on whether they support Trump or Clinton?

Just because someone votes one way or another, it does not automatically make them a “good” or “bad” person. Unless we listen patiently and openly, we will never get insight into what information has led to voting for a particular candidate.

When we shut people out, we are automatically condemning them based on cognitive dissonance, whereby other people’s beliefs challenge us and conflict with our own, so we deny, reject and dismiss them, since it is uncomfortable and unpleasant to consider and accept that other people think differently. Conditioning, education, belief systems and experiences accumulate to give everyone their own unique mindset, enabling them to make judgments and decisions in their personal lives.

Those judgments and decisions may not be what we view as the “right” ones, but each person has a right to them and feels that they are making them based on balanced and informed data. America is a democratic society and one that offers the right to freedom of speech—and there is so much we can learn from one another, if we honor that right in each person, whether we agree with their views or not.

For those times we can’t agree or even remotely see where the other person is coming from, we can use the moment as a chance to dig deep and practice unconditional love and acceptance. Embracing people regardless of their views is the kindest, most peaceful, compassionate thing we can do throughout this campaign—and if nothing else, it will prevent our blood pressure rising.

It won’t be easy, but there is enough destruction and disharmony in the world without adding more due to severing friendships over candidate choices. I truly think the reason for friendships ending has less to do with the candidate that someone supports, and more to do with the way in which people communicate their support or their beliefs.

If someone is rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, aggressive, racist, ignorant or antagonistic (amongst other things), then were we really good friends with them in the first place? And if we were, and we knew all about their character, then why change anything now just because they support someone whom we may feel also reflects those traits? Maybe our expectations for others are just too high, and we can consider attempting to be more empathetic, considerate and open-minded.

With those that are good friends and are just having a heated moment to air their views (and who may have in the moment said something loaded and out of character), we need to bond together, not separate, as things are not going to get any easier, especially when the winning candidate is announced. It takes great strength to say, “I’m always going to be your friend regardless of who you support.”

The one quality that America needs to establish and reinforce—more than ever, over these next few months—is unity. And we do this by offering unconditional acceptance.

For those who wish to change what they see on Facebook, here are some tips to help to reorganize your page.



Author: Alex Myles

Image: Flickr/Amanda Wood

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina


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