How can you be friends with someone for years, maybe even decades, and not realise uncomfortable aspects of their personalities? Their views on the world, their take on current world events based on their prejudices?
From what I’ve discovered over recent years, it’s very easy. I know a handful of people I am friends with who have expressed opinions based on racial and cultural bigotry. People I have laughed with, shared warm experiences with, and have fond and happy memories with that go back to my youth.
But now, thanks to that powder keg of self-expression called social media, I have been shocked in the last few years by comments from some friends that show a basic lack of compassion towards those fleeing persecution, and those with a different cultural heritage and skin colour.
For clarification, I’m only talking about a very small number and none express any kind of violence or social uprising towards anyone. But when faced with statements made based on deep ignorance, it’s hard not to be affected.
Recently someone told me that he has friends who are black, but due to a lack of sun living in the UK is simply not good for their skin, that they should be in a climate more suited to their pigmentation. When I called out this out as ridiculous and ultimately racist, he was aghast as to why – even though he added that they were friends who he “wouldn’t want living next door”.
He was genuinely perplexed as to why he would be considered a racist, that he was just expressing ‘fact’, not hatred. I have been friends with this person, on and off, for nearly forty years without any indication he had such views.
THE MIGRATION MINEFIELD
The number of people seeking migration in other countries is a huge problem throughout the world, and its root causes such as poverty and oppression are deep, and it’s difficult to see any resolution. Opinion on how to deal with it, particularly when society is fundamentally affected by huge numbers of people seeking asylum, are varied and complex.
However, when people I thought I knew well post statements that all migrants filling an overloaded dinghy to navigate a treacherous sea crossing are criminals, it is hard not to be taken aback.
So how then, should I deal with this? The straightforward answer is these people should not have any place in my life. Why would I want to stay on friendly terms with people so intolerant and lacking in basic compassion?
In the past I have entered into online arguments that been long and protracted and difficult, and ultimately unproductive as both sides have become more deeply entrenched in our views. Then I chose not to engage, not to credit such outlandish views worthy of debate. However turning away also however also felt like appeasement.
So, I just have to ‘unfriend’ or disconnect with such people, right? Get rid of them out of my life.
But I have struggled with this. If it was an acquaintance, or someone I had only met online, it would be simple. History with a person makes it more nuanced, more complicated. Is there another way?
THE POWER OF SUGGESTION
Lately I have ‘suggested’ a different view, rather than to confront. This has worked to an extent by taking one person away from being defensive and acknowledging my point.
Whichever way nothing feels completely comfortable and if faced with deeper extremes I am confident I would shut off contact. In the meantime I continue to fudge the issue, hoping my experience of their better natures will ultimately outweigh the troubling parts of their character that occasionally rises to the surface.