"How can you be friends with a Tory?"
And other questions ruining my friendship group
By Arianna Wright
Why losing friends over the general election is a dumb move.
Last weekend, I was sitting across from my good friend Jess while we sipped pints at our local, overpriced pub when she saw my phone light up: “Message: Emily R”. Jess looked at me and said, “God, I just don’t know how you can be friends with her. She told me she voted Leave at that party the other day. She’s definitely a Tory”. I smirked, thinking she couldn’t be serious, but Jess just kept looking at me, waiting for an answer. Right then, I realised that all those jokes people make on Twitter about how they “could never be friends with a Tory” are totally real. Emily is great. Emily will also probably vote Conservative. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive; Jess thought differently.
Are we as a generation - who are supposedly more open minded than any other - actually incapable of dealing with people who disagree with us?
We grew up in a time when you could hide behind heavily edited versions of ourselves. We disguised ourselves with the perfect Bebo skin (leopard print was obviously the best) and made ourselves seem dark and mysterious by syncing the perfect iTunes track to our MSN. If you didn’t want to tell that nasty girl you thought she was a bitch IRL, you could just demote her from your top Bebo 10 friends and let the burn sink in. Now it seems, we’ve transferred that fear of confrontation into our young adulthood and we are simply avoiding being around people who risk challenging our points of view, rather than actively engaging with them.
Ok, so loving Tories is really not the hill I want to die on. I’m a liberal. I think the Tories' austerity measures have been disastrous and ruined countless lives. But, I accept that others might not think the same. I am worried by how divisive our political pub chat is getting. And it’s not just slightly pissed 20-somethings who are getting all angry at each other about someone voting for a party or cause they disagree with; we are seeing this at scale. 58 per cent of Americans believe the political climate prevents them from sharing their own political beliefs and we’ve seen a widening of the political divide on our home soil too.
It’s natural to get tribal about politics.
Tribalism is a big part of human history; not something that was invented by XR or those vegans that throw fake blood at people in steakhouses. There has always been competition between groups of humans in different ways. But tribalism makes us more emotional, allowing us to bond tightly with our clan, and consequently it makes us less logical too. My housemate, usually a rational guy, is convinced Bournemouth FC are going to win the FA Cup one day. But let’s be honest, it’s not happening any time soon (sorry Sam!). Tribalism causes otherwise sane people to make slightly unhinged decisions and assumptions.
Tribalism allows us to co-operate in large groups, but it also demands we “other” those not in the club.
When we cast out people from the group who fail to meet our particular exacting, moral standards, we close our own echo chamber even tighter, intimidate others into silence, and we hereby widen the gap between ourselves and that other (probably quite reasonable) person. We’ve all read those articles about how the liberal metropolitan elite thought Brexit would go vs how it actually went, because of the echo chamber. Well, that echo chamber is still here and it’s only getting worse amongst our friendship groups with this general election anticipation.
The quarterlife echo chamber has been massively amplified by Twitter. As Emily Parker writes in her recent article, “tweets now equal opinions. The more visible you want to be on the platform, the stronger your tweets usually have to be. Now, no one tweets without a perfectly polished viewpoint or agenda. To tweet without conviction is to pre-lash without the lash or to Netflix-and-chill without getting to the chill”. Balanced opinions and friendly debate don’t quite cut it on this platform that's so popular with people our age. It’s a hardline or the highway.
But, if you refuse to actively engage anyone who doesn’t share your opinion that Diane Abbott was a stone cold legend for drinking her tinnies on the overground, then you have no hope of ever influencing that person’s opinion.
Our quarterlives can be lonely enough as it is without creating more pointless divisions. Megan Phelps-Roper, former member of the Westboro Baptist Church, talks about this division in her recent book, Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope. She says, “we’re all just human beings. We should be guided by that most basic fact, and approach one another with generosity and compassion”. So, don’t push friends away before this general election. Don’t be that guy on Hinge who says “No Tories”, or “No Labour voters” for that matter.
Whilst it can be unsettling when someone doesn’t hold the same beliefs as you - especially ones that form such a core part of who you are and the values you hold - try to understand where they are coming from. Deep down, you probably care about the same things - you’re just looking at them from different sides of the fence.
Invite conversation, be open to difference and, one by one, you might just convince someone over to your way of seeing things.
And even if you vehemently disagree with everything I’ve just said, make sure you vote. It’s important.
Image by unknown Pinterest photographer.