A conversation emerged on this blog recently about friendships between people who have different belief systems or values. In one instance, the commenter considered herself a liberal while the friend was extremely conservative. In another, the commenter was Jewish but worried a new friend, a Christian, was trying to “save” her. Similar comments have come up about political opinions.
The question, of course, is simple: Can you be friends with someone who has different beliefs?
My response: Mostly.
Having different religious affiliations or political leanings, on their own, certainly shouldn’t make or break a relationship. I have plenty of friends who are not Jewish, and fewer–but still some–who don’t share my political leanings. The problems come when our differences start to delve deeper, shaping our moral code and informing our standards of conduct.
Here’s how I see it: Our value systems guide how we behave and how we treat others, while beliefs are more editorialized. While having different beliefs might actually enhance a friendship (stimulating conversation!), values, well, not so much. If you and a PBFF have moral compasses that are out of sync, that will probably make friendship difficult.
If, for example, the idea that everyone deserves the same rights and equal treatment is fundamental to your values, and someone else feels differently, it will probably be hard for you to have a future together. That core value will just inform too much of your behavior and outlook.
The tricky part, I think, is being sure that it is indeed your core value system (not just religion or political party or some other surface trait) that’s different when you decide to give up on a budding friendship. Many of us have a tendency to assume a specific political affiliation, for example, corresponds with a specific value system, and those kinds of assumptions are the ones that can get in the way of potentially great relationships.
That said, if one writes off a friendship with someone who clearly has different values, it’s not always, necessarily, judgmental. It might just be that after years of friendships and of meeting new people, you know what works and what doesn’t. As reader wrote: “You are not judging this new friend as a person, but you are trying to discern whether or not there’s potential for a close friendship.”
Does she have a point? And what do you think, are some differences just too different, making friendship impossible?