A Call to Civility: Prioritizing People Rather Than Their Politics

Alexandra Bennett, Contributor

In the current year, many Americans have been affected by the blatant political polarization that has taken hold of the nation since 2016. 

Many may scoff when the term “civil war” is brought up regarding this new political landscape. Still, I see the disheartening truth in it. We are in a civil war; we just haven’t resorted to shooting at each other yet (and I hope we never sink that low). 

No, this civil war is different, this is a war of words and opinions rather than muskets and cannons, though there has been an uptick in politically motivated violence. However, I’m focusing on more personal effects. It seems now that people are placing political ideology as a deciding factor on whether a friendship survives or dies. 

It is an almost universal rule of etiquette not to discuss politics in mixed company. It seems like there is a good reason for that. A 2016 poll from PRRI.org stated that 24 percent of Democrats surveyed indicated that they had blocked or ended friendships on social media over politics, while 9 percent of independents and republicans reported similar actions (Cox, & Jones, 2016). 

While there is a difference between which political affiliation was more likely to block or unfriend someone in the name of politics, that isn’t a point I’m trying to make. I’m saying that the fact there is any blocking or unfriending on either side is unacceptable. 

Politics should not be a deal-breaking factor in a friendship. The vast majority of us wouldn’t condemn friendly association to death because we found out our friend supported a rival sports team or disliked a book we enjoyed.

I am, of course, aware that a person’s politics are very personal and often make up a large amount of their belief system as a whole. So it can, of course, be jarring or incensing to find out that a close friend or liked acquaintance can have a set of beliefs so juxtaposed to our own. 

Whether it is right or not, we identify so closely with our political views. Things have gotten so polarized between the two camps that it’s not hard to see how a friend may become an enemy the moment they breathe a contradictory sentiment. One could feel almost betrayed that the person they were friends with revealed a dark side to themselves.

 We all have our beliefs, and we all have a right to have and keep those beliefs. I say there’s even nobility and strength in maintaining those beliefs. 

However, understanding someone else’s beliefs does not diminish ours. While we have our disagreements with both sides of the political aisle, the majority of Americans are not the most radical of people. The extremists for both right and left are the overwhelming minority relative to the U.S. population. 

According to a study referred to as Hidden Tribes, the most extreme viewpoints on both sides only make up about 15 percent, with 6 percent belonging to right-wing extremism and 9 percent belonging to left (Hawkins, Yudkin, Juan-Torres, & Dixon, 2018). 

With that in mind, it is statistically probable that whoever we are friends with that diverge politically from us isn’t some evil racist or authoritarian dictator. We are more likely to have things in common with them than not. Even if one does have disagreements with that person, cutting them out of their life in any capacity for political differences isn’t the answer. I would go so far as to say it is a big reason why we are so polarized today. 

We cannot cut ourselves off from opposing beliefs; if we do this, we gain no understanding of the other side, which puts any chance for eventual compromise and social harmony to a grinding halt. It isn’t harmful to disagree with someone on politics -far from it- and a diverse array of opinions is a positive thing; it makes us stronger as a society. 

Most importantly, remember that our friends are still the same people they were before we knew their politics. It’s when people forget this that I worry this new civil war will only escalate. Ultimately, leaving us too divided to function.

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