Yes, it is Okay to Fight Over Disagreements

Johnny and Susie met on the playground. Johnny enjoyed the way Susie laughed, and Susie appreciated Johnny’s humor. They both appreciated each other’s company when it seemed no one else would play hide and seek, and through weeks of this dynamic, had grown fond of each other.

One day, in playtime, Johnny spread his arms, as if they were wings, and exclaimed, “I think black people are violent criminals; white people are the best!”

To which Susie replied, “What the fuck, Johnny?”

Similar scenarios are normally resolved with something to the effect of, “don’t ruin friendships from differing opinions,” or “respect everyone’s beliefs.” But how merited is this idea? In the fun example above, while it could be imagined Susie forgave Johnny for innocently parroting a quote from his favorite movie scene(?), it is also plausible she abandoned him and chose a less racist playmate. Personally, I would prefer Susie distance herself from the neo-Nazi, thus severing their friendship over differing beliefs.

The idea to maintain friendships despite differing opinions, if not mainstream, is at least prominent as a go-to solution. In a similar sentiment, it extends to say not to damage relationships beyond where they were. Yet, it is strained by the given racist scenario, which in our time, is not unnormal. If so easily strained, especially by something not so far off our political narrative, why is the idea even a thing? Broadly speaking, the reasons seem to stem from practicality, which is maintaining our usefulness for each other, and ethics. That is, in terms of practicality, friendships are kept so long as we feel our opponents still have worth to us. And surely, it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which differences in belief would not be worth passing up usefulness: I can imagine unresolvable and arbitrary arguments over religion, for example. For ethics, the argument is vaguely that people exist above ideas. These are valid reasons to maintain a friendship, and they should be considered.

Often, I think, passiveness is appropriate in the contexts in which it is recited. As mentioned, it may be within the arbitrary argument over religion, or more commonly, over politics, or in small feuds within the classroom. For religion, there cannot really be a winner when battling dogma with dogma; for politics and the classroom, it is usual too much emotion is felt over small things which do not really hold much practical weight. For these, passiveness, with the reasons of practicality and ethics, can reasonably be beneficial. But when we encounter who are effectively neo-Nazis, and outwardly corrupt morons, as well as the sizable minority who put them into office, it should be seriously questioned why we still recite passiveness. It is the theoretical likeness of going from shaking hands and saying “I’m sorry” over spilled milk to shaking hands and apologizing after a person set your house on fire, pissed on it, then of course, finished by telling you to get over it. The ideal for passiveness was meant for the small things in life, but does not transfer well to the larger.

When conflicts in belief do get serious, there are reasons to consider degrading a relationship. For one, there is the matter of respecting your own morals. If one’s beliefs entail morals contrasting with your own, then to not sever or weaken the friendship is to in part disrespect yourself, and in part disrespect whatever your morals stood for. Referring to the listed reasons to not diminish a relationship, it would also be apt to diminish a relationship if they were not true—if the person in the relationship in question were not useful to you, and if you either did not believe to place people above ideas, or sustaining friendship with him contradicted this somehow. For example, if his ethics were to censor journalists by imprisonment, friendship with him could be seen as rewarding that belief, which would contradict your own. Moreover, these reasons can stand alone when only considering differing ideas, and not actions in accordance to them. When it is realized ideas are almost always accompanied by related actions, so that perhaps your Nazi-worshipping friend may actually (gasp) also express racist behavior, there is all the more reason to degrade or fully drop the relationship.

Where I have used “friendship” sparingly, a relationship of any sort may be substituted. There is always space to further distance oneself, and even go negative in the form of verbal or physical backlash, which these reasons may broadly support. I am not saying relationships should always be sought to be weakened or dismantled over disagreements. Obviously, there can be different qualities/quantities of disagreements, which factor differently in the reasons for and against friendship. But rather than believing the de facto answer to disagreement to be peace, gauge how things like practicality to friendship and fidelity to your morals play out, and realize severing or diminishing a relationship is completely fine. The next time you meet a Johnny who haphazardly screams racist slurs, perhaps you ought to unfriend him—punch him in the head, even.