Q: We have some longtime friends that I care deeply about but realize there are some fundamental differences that I have a hard time respecting. Is it possible to keep friendships when you don’t agree on certain things?
A: Not only is it possible, but I can’t imagine it being otherwise. I have yet to meet anybody, husband and family included where agreement is the order of the day, every day. But the key is to acknowledge how those differences can be an opportunity for growth and learning rather than conflict and discord. I have very dear friends that I would consider myself very unlike in terms of the way we go about our lives. Do I find myself at odds with this at times? You bet. But during those times I try to backtrack to the big picture. Are they good people? Do they bring qualities of value and perspective to the relationship? Does their moral compass align with your own?
Having said this I also believe that any real relationship, by definition, tolerates honesty and openness. If friendship means we need to agree with each other all the time or to keep quiet when we don’t agree then I’m not of a mind to call that sort of relationship a friendship. Under those guidelines we can call ourselves acquaintances, or cocktail companions, but not friends. I remember one time watching a friend begin to lose her marriage because of a grown daughter who was living with them with her young children. Now I can see an endless number of ways that this could have been a tremendously positive experience, but the daughter was bringing absolutely nothing to the table. She was creating enormous conflict between her mother, my dear friend, and her husband (who was not her dad). Her mom was married to a terrific man who truly didn’t ask for anything unreasonable but still the grown daughter continued to be a source of discontent in the relationship. I was involved not only as someone who cared deeply but my friend had also asked me to drive her granddaughter to school each day, etc., all catering to a grown daughter who was doing nothing but selfishly ruining her mother’s relationship and happiness. I wrote my friend a heartfelt letter that expressed what I was seeing unfold and my care and concern for her. It was direct and on point and to her enormous credit she took it for what it was. A statement of both my strong beliefs and my deep concern for her. Certainly this doesn’t mean that we need to call urgent attention to every difference. Relationships allow room for individuality and contrasts, but true friendships also allow for honesty and complete candor when something of substance or great consequence is amiss.
I will also say there are some differences I could simply never abide by. Examples would be mistreating a spouse or children and racism. If I found myself in a friendship where those fundamental principles were at odds I would need to move on, but who we vote for on election day, whether we attend what church and where on Sundays and whether we opt for paper or plastic at the grocery store…vive la différence!