Losing loved ones over different political opinions? You’re not alone

Picture credits: University of Louisville Department of Communication

Do you have a friend with whom you don’t feel like talking anymore just because he/she has a different opinion on the policies of your country’s President/Prime Minister? Do you often feel frustrated or angry because after so many years you’re getting to know his/her ‘actual’ political opinions? Do you feel sad that now your friendship is on the verge of becoming a void relationship? 

Trust me, you’re not alone. 

The modern world we are living in is constantly changing. Friendships are formed based on many factors: how long have you known someone, how common your interests are, etc. There is another parameter that has been added up in recent decades: politics. Yes, politics is also deciding if you are going to hang out with someone for a long time period. You are more likely to befriend with someone whose political opinion on a variety of political issues matches with yours than with someone who thinks in a completely opposite direction. I am not talking something that is purely fictional. I can speak for it because over the past year I have had many personal experiences where I didn’t feel like talking to some of my good friends because ‘I got to know the real them’. 

Surprised? I don’t think you should be surprised. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre has shown that the political divide is the new normal of the modern world. It’s a reality of the 21st century. Jocelyn Kiley, who is an associate director of research at the Pew Research Centre said that the political divide is on the rise and it hasn’t been so prevalent at any point in modern history. According to Pew, nearly 80% of the Americans say that they have “a few” or “no friends” on the other side. In other words, people supporting the Democrats say they have no friends or few friends who support the Republicans. And the vice versa. The worst part is that the percentage is very high- 80%!!! There is hostility too towards each other. People are letting go off their friendships that are as long as 30 years old. Blocking each other on different social media platforms has become quite common these days. An episode done on the “All Things Considered” podcast by NPR reported a story of a man named Davis who is 42 years old. Davis is a consultant in the US. He is black. During the protests in the country against police brutality, Davis got a reality check of one of his close friends. When his friend tried downplaying police brutality he said he couldn’t take it. He told his friend, “If this is your attitude, we can’t be cool anymore. I don’t respect you now. I don’t. Because people are really dying.” A story of Shama Davis from Los Angeles is another example. Having a disagreement with his friend Shama said, “Dude, I am done. Lose my number.” He unfriended the person he has been friends with for almost 25 years. 

A survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) showed that 8 out of 10 Republicans believe Democrats are socialists while Democratic party believes Republicans are racists. It’s like both are pointing at each other. 

The topic is so interesting that even academicians could not refrain themselves from exploring more deeply. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has dived into the political divisions among people. The study is authored by Elina Buliga and Cara MacInnis from the University of Calgary, Canada. Participants were recruited for the study. Out of the total number of participants 142 identified themselves as Liberals while 70 identified themselves as Conservatives. The researchers found that the participants were more inclined towards friends/strangers who shared the same political beliefs than those with different political opinions. Long and established relationships didn’t seem to matter in front of difference of opinion in the political matters. The study does have some shortcomings like not every individual jeopardises his/her relationship with closed ones for the sake of politics. Nevertheless, it points out an interesting and important finding on the political divisions in the modern world. 

What needs to be done now?

Tania Israel, a professor in the counselling, clinical and school psychology department at the University of California, Santa Barbara believes it is not wise to ruin our good old friendships over politics. She says that we must take the first step and talk to people in person. Which is completely right. We should not let social media come in between because that’s not a real world and opinions on social media platforms don’t matter much. It’s time that we become not only tolerant but also acceptable of other people. Talk to your loved ones. Listen what they have to say. Say what you have to say. Talk. Talk and talk. Just not about politics.  

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