The United States seems to be more polarized than ever these days. If you from New York City, you're probably liberal. If you're from Birmingham, Alabama, you probably lean conservative. If you're from a swing state, you could lean either way, but we all know that you've definitely chosen a side. It feels as if we are pressured by society to "pick a side", even if we do not even have particularly strong viewpoints when it comes to politics. To make this polarization even more problematic, many people are so engrossed in their own opinions that they cannot even stand to listen to others' dissenting opinions. This creates a huge disconnect between people that otherwise could make great friends. As for me, I have recently returned to New Jersey after living in Ohio for two and a half years. Ohio is well-known to be a swing state, but most people at the University of Dayton lean conservative (unlike me, as you may have noticed from some of my previous articles). However, there are a lot of Democrats as well. Consequently, I ended up with friends who fall all over the political spectrum. Here is some advice for someone who is finding it difficult to maintain a friendship with someone on the other team:
1. Don't Belittle Their Position.
It might be easy after watching an episode of The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight With John Oliver to throw out some of your own witty comments about whatever crazy thing Donald Trump has said recently, or to make fun of Hillary Clinton's face after seeing Bill O'Reilly rant about his opinions on Fox News, but I urge you not to do this in front of your disagreeing friends. If you're in the middle of a political group on campus or otherwise amongst like-minded pals, go ahead, but you don't want to make your friends who disagree with you feel unintelligent.
2. Understand Where They Are Coming From.
Everyone was raised differently. It is very different to grow up in a large New Jersey suburb than it is to grow up in a tiny town in Ohio. This particular example applies to myself and my first college roommate. We were both well aware that we disagreed on many issues, but that never stopped us from being friends. Clearly, she was raised in a conservative area and I in a somewhat liberal area by very progressive parents. We are both mature enough to understand that our upbringing and life experiences shaped who we are today, and that's okay.
3. Don't Argue--Discuss.
I am a big proponent of civil discourse when it comes to key political issues. Unfortunately, many people find it impossible to discuss controversial issues without getting worked up, often leading to an argument that could have been easily avoided by simply choosing to be polite. In Ohio, I often ended up simply leaving the room without saying anything if I felt that the conversation was getting into racist or otherwise inappropriate territory (which it sometimes did). I realized through experience that no amount of persuasion on my part could change the minds that had already been made up. On the other hand, there are times when discourse can be useful. For example, I somehow managed to have a civil conversation about abortion in which everyone disagreed about a year ago. We all put in our thoughts, listened to each other, and didn't belittle anyone. This kind of conversation has helped me learn more about people who are different from me.
4. Focus On What You Do Agree On.
It is easy to assume, if you voted for Mitt Romney, that you have nothing in common with an Obama supporter, and vice versa. I would argue that this is not necessarily true. Sure, if two people are extremely radical it may be difficult to find common ground, but most people agree on at least basic ideas despite what their political affiliation is. Myself and the roommate I mentioned earlier agree on many things despite being in different political parties. We have had many constructive conversations about how bothered we were by racist and sexist comments made by other students on campus or on social media. I believe that people of all parties can agree that every human being deserves to be treated with respect.
It may seem difficult to befriend those who have radically different opinions than you do, but I've managed to make friends of all stripes. You can do it too!