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longgone's avatar

How much dissent is healthy in a friendship? Is what you disagree on relevant?

Asked by longgone (17108points) November 20th, 2015

I met a guy. So far, our temperaments seem to match fairly well. We’ve been walking our dogs and going out for coffee together, and we haven’t run out of things to talk about yet.

Basically, my family and friends are making wedding plans.

Last time I saw him, we talked about school. He mentioned a teacher who had slapped a child, and implied that it may be necessary to get physical with children in some cases.

That’s about as far from what I believe as possible. It surprised me, because we seemed to have similar views on children and education, up to that point.

I don’t have a problem with differing views. In fact, I love to argue. My best friend and I get into very deep discussions precisely because we don’t always agree, and I love that.

However, the assertion that children need to be slapped did not make me want to start a discussion. It made me cringe and change the subject.

Have you ever been friends with someone who had very different views about the topics you consider most important? Did that work out?

Let’s not make this about children and the need for slaps, please. I’ll be happy to join in if anyone feels like starting a thread on that, but here, I’d like to discuss opposing viewpoints and friendships.

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21 Answers

rojo's avatar

I have friends that hold diametrically opposite views from my own but we don’t let that get in the way of our friendship. Most of the time once we determine where we differ the subject doesn’t come up again or if it does we already know where the others stand. So I guess that a couple of disagreements is no big deal, besides, if there too many the chances are you would not be friends for very long in the first place.

Cupcake's avatar

Eh. Variety is the spice of life. If you like spending time together, you’re good.

That changes once you consider a potential long-term relationship with someone.

I come from a multi-cultural family and raise my kids to be painfully aware of their privilege. I have friends who are racist (they might not know it, but they really are). I point out some things to possibly increase their general awareness, but we just agree to disagree or don’t talk about certain topics.

My husband and I agree on all of the big things. My friends and I don’t. It works out fine.

janbb's avatar

A friendship is different from a marriage and a dating relationship is still different from someone you plan to have children with. This relationship sounds like it is in its very early stages so you may just want to file away “red flags” and see how many accumulate as the friendship progresses. But I also see no harm in bringing up the topic with him in a conversation and discovering more about why he feels that way about physical punishment.

I do feel that attitudes about child rearing and even strong differences in religious beliefs can be important factors in the success of a marriage. Interestingly enough, my Ex and I came from very different cultures but we had very few, if any, conflicts about child rearing. And our marriage was successful in many ways.

jca's avatar

Are you talking about “friends” or are you talking about “significant others?”

funkdaddy's avatar

I think in early stages, it’s more finding out the rules someone lives by, and whether or not you’re compatible with that, rather than the specifics.

If he thinks kids should be slapped first, and beat if need be, because children should be seen and not heard, that’s a lot different than “I got spanked as a child, and I turned out ok”. If that makes sense.

One is truly opposed to your own view, and would reflect some thought on the subject, the other is really just a default from his own childhood that he hasn’t necessarily challenged. (maybe he has and thinks it’s really the best way).

I don’t know how old you are, but 20 year old funkdaddy would have been in the second camp. Now, with kids of my own, I feel bad if I even lose my cool for a couple of seconds and they see it.

I find all my friends share a couple of traits that I guess I unconsciously look for. The rest of their personality and history runs a really wide range. Obviously those few traits are what’s important for me in a friendship. Maybe you’re the same?

longgone's avatar

I’ve been wondering about this in general. My best friends and I hardly ever disagreed, for the first decade we knew each other. Now, we can disagree quite a lot – but we always have very similar opinions on the topics we get really worked up about.

A lot of it has to do with how you disagree, of course. One of my less close friends can get fairly mean when in discussions. She needs to win. When I discuss issues with my best friends, we are not only interested in making our point – we are much more interested in finding out what everyone is thinking, and learning about how those views have formed. I guess that’s proof of how much we value each other – if those best friends disagreed with me on anything substantial, I’d see that as incentive to examine my own reasoning. We’ve known each other for so long, I consider them my external hard drive. If our views are completely incompatible, that’s just weird.

@janbb That’s true. Right now we are only friends, and I will just see where it goes. I do plan to bring up childhoods, so I will probably learn more about where his opinions come from, at that point.

@funkdaddy Good point. He is definitely not in the first camp, and I can imagine his comment being a rationalization of his own childhood experiences. I am exactly the same in my search of new friends, they do all share my opinions on what I consider important.

@jca Right now, it’s a friendship – but I’m interested in all kinds of relationships.

@Cupcake We do like spending time together. Thanks.

@rojo Interesting. While I do have friends who have opposing beliefs, that’s only in the less important areas. Or, what I consider less important. Some of my friends are fairly religious – but because that doesn’t much affect our daily lives, it’s irrelevant.

zenvelo's avatar

There are subjects for me where it is a matter of opinion, and others where it is a deal breaker.

I have an old fraternity brother friend who I disagreed on many things with. That was fine until he posted some racist comments on my Facebook page. That was a deal breaker.

And opinions on child discipline may fall into either of those camps: some views are anathema to me, others are general disagreements on child raising.

The beautiful thing about friendships, especially those that might grow into something more, is that one can explore each other’s views as you get to know each other, and have it be okay. And some answers may be awful, but the friendship can continue with that subject being an agree to disagree topic.

The deal breakers will eventually surface. But if they do, they are deal breakers for a reason, not something one can ignore.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

It depends on how open he is to changing his views. Some people no matter how much evidence you place in front of them will never change their opinions on certain topics. Eventually, if your family get their way, you’ll marry this man. If he isn’t open to changing his ideas, how will you manage your very different views on disciplining your future children?

I’m totally okay with disagreement in a relationship. Who wants to be with someone who just nods and agrees with everything you say. My husband and I have some passionate arguments about various topics. One thing I love about him is he’s prepared to listen and learn and on occasions to change his ideas. I know my own opinions on different issues have changed significantly as I’ve looked at things from different perspectives.

Cruiser's avatar

I think strong true friendships tend to depend on being of like mind on most subject matters but that is my perspective and being 55 years old. 30 years ago, I can’t recall almost ever having a political, religious or how to raise kid type discussion where personal positions on hot topic issues. All that mattered to my friends and I was girls and rock and roll so we were pretty close because our likes and agreed on pretty much everything. But as the years went on and you assumed more responsibilities, found my opinions to become more focused and reflective of what is directly affecting my life.

And now looking back while likes and similar beliefs is crucial to a good friendship I also embrace the differences between friends that can really strengthen a friendship and even a relationship like a marriage

janbb's avatar

There was a guy I might have gone out with but I considered his expressed views on such issues as the unrestricted right to bear arms and the wrongness of social safety networks to be son antithetical to my core values that I could not have had a relationship. As @Earthbound_Misfit says, I wouldn’t want to be with someone who was a mirror image of myself, but for me, certain beliefs are definitely deal breakers. With friends, it is more gray but even there, most of my close friends share more or less the same values.

janbb's avatar

Edit: “so” not “son”

dxs's avatar

Hmmm. If I sense that we have differing opinions, I tend to just stop talking about certain issues. It’s really more of how they defend their opinion, and how able they are to set aside differences and talk about other things. They’d have to be mature enough to disagree with me. I think I’d have a problem if that person were active in their beliefs that I so reject. Like, Id refuse to be friends with someone who I found out was like, a KKK member or something
@longgone oh yeah I hate the whole “winning” thing with arguments. Not sure I could befriend someone with that much ego in the first place haha.

jca's avatar

I have friends with political opinions that are all over the map. We usually don’t discuss politics. I’m not typically one to want to get into heated arguments with friends in social settings. If someone goes around vehemently throwing around negative opinions, I find it hard to tolerate. A good friend and her husband are Republican. When I am with her alone, we have pleasant discussions and it’s all good. When her husband is around, he throws around terms like “stupid liberals” which feels like a slap, but I don’t say anything, as it’s not something I want to argue about. He has his opinion, I have mine.

dappled_leaves's avatar

As others have said, there are different levels to these things. I don’t expect to share all my views with acquaintances, even if they are fun to see a movie or have a coffee with. I have a lot of friends who I’ve met through very specific circumstances, and it’s not unlikely that I might be surprised by profound differences in our views, because we simply don’t ever talk about those issues.

But I wouldn’t consider someone a close friend if I found it impossible to see things from their point of view. I have no close friends who are politically very conservative, for example, and I definitely wouldn’t date someone who is. These are ideas that are important to me. I have no trouble claiming close friends who are religious, even though I am a vocal atheist. But I could never date or marry someone who was religious.

thorninmud's avatar

This will depend very much on the people involved. I think it’s not only a matter of how different the opinions are, but also of how strongly the friends identify with their opinions. People can vary quite a bit in this respect.

If I consider that my opinions are somehow at the core of who I am (not an unusual perspective), then I am also likely to see others as the personification of their opinions. This will make it very difficult for me to feel intimacy toward someone with contrary opinions. I will see them as being separated from me, other. I will also see any criticisms of my opinions as an assault on who I am, and this will put me on the defensive and reinforce my sense of separation. Friendship is difficult under those circumstances, since it relies on trust and intimacy.

It is possible to have opinions without strongly identifying with them. If I see that my opinions don’t define me, then I’m less likely to view others in terms of their opinions on this or that. Just as I am irreducible and multi-faceted, so are they. I don’t feel the need to mount the ramparts when I encounter opposite opinions, as if my identity were at stake. Otherness recedes, intimacy remains possible.

Having said all that, it has to be recognized that things get more complicated when it’s not just a matter of friendship but of working together toward a goal. There’s a lot of that involved in raising a family, as in running a business or collaborating on any big project. Here, intimacy isn’t enough, and opposing opinions can really make for rough going.

Love_my_doggie's avatar

I’ve never learned anything by talking with people who agree with me. It’s broadening and stimulating to hear different opinions.

What matters is how two people disagree. If both sides are reasonable, willing to listen, and able to speak with civility, they can have some terrific conversations. When someone lectures and takes an “I’m 100% right, and you’re 100% wrong” attitude, there’s really no basis for a relationship.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I won’t be friends with, or date anyone, that holds views on the opposite spectrum that I do when it comes to the “big things”. There are people in the world who think that’s completely ridiculous and that’s okay. This is my life, I only have one and it’s short. I don’t want to surround myself with people who I will, undoubtedly, disrespect and resent on certain levels. I don’t think they’d want to bother with someone who felt that way about them, either, so it’s better for everyone.

Like a few people have said, there are levels of acceptable and unacceptable. I’m okay with opposing views, and I also like long and serious discussions with friends about topics that are important to us. It’s healthy to hear other people’s views and it’s good because it boosts your ability to effectively communicate, even when you disagree – precisely because it’s not about winning. It’s about genuine and mature communication and it feels good to do it.

I have outright had to tell people that we felt too differently about certain things to bother continuing any kind of communication. Some people understand and others don’t. When and if I ever do that, though, I walk away knowing that I just prevented both of us from wasting a lot of time.

I think it’s totally worth bringing up the subject at some point again, maybe when you’ve become even more comfortable with each other. There’s nothing wrong with you wanting to explore, in depth, how he feels about it. It’s educational and if you really want him to be a larger part of your life, you’ll want to really know more about him. Anyway, good luck. :) Let us know how it goes.

Cruiser's avatar

@Love_my_doggie great answer…+5

longgone's avatar

Thanks for the added responses.

@zenvelo I like the idea of “deal breakers” making themselves known automatically. I’m stubborn about the things I consider most important, so this is likely to be true for me.

@Earthbound_Misfit Ha. We’ll see whether they do get their way…if they do, he will have changed his opinions. I could not ever raise children with someone who believed in hurting them.

@Cruiser Yep, differences do strengthen relationships. One thing I like about this guy is the fact that he has strong opinions, while being willing to discuss them.

@janbb If he had been more confident in his views on this, I think that would have been an immediate deal-breaker for me. As it is, he seemed much less certain about this than about some of his other ideas. His views on the refugees and education, for example, were very clear and he seemed to know exactly what he believed in, there. He agrees with me.

@dxs No – it’s more of a “friendship”, at this point.

@jca That does sound unpleasant. I’m reminded of my more religious friends – our friendship is strong precisely because they don’t try to convert me, while I won’t attack their beliefs.

@dappled_leaves ” I wouldn’t consider someone a close friend if I found it impossible to see things from their point of view.”

That’s a very good point. It’s not so much the agreement, in itself – it’s the ability to see each other’s logic.

@thorninmud That’s something I’m learning at the moment. I like to remind myself that people’s opinions are the result of their experience, their sources, their acquaintances. If I was that person, their views would be mine. I don’t question all of my views on a daily basis, so expecting that of others is not exactly fair.

@Love_my_doggie I learn a lot from people I agree with, actually. I do very much agree with your second point!

@DrasticDreamer Yes, I will definitely explore the subject. I’m hesitant to let anyone I don’t really know become part of my life, anyway.

longgone's avatar

@dxs Sorry, I was falling asleep when I wrote the above. You wrote,
“Not sure I could befriend someone with that much ego in the first place haha.”

That’s what my comment referred to – the relationship with that person is not a real friendship, at this point.

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