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Sociopolitical distancing

/ 05:04 AM October 24, 2021

“Should you remain friends with people with radically different political views from you?”

My answer is no. I will tell you why.

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With election season on and political aspirants vying for posts from president to councilor, people have started batting around as to who among these candidates they think are best to steer the ship in the next six years. As expected, this has revealed political differences that are tearing friendships apart—mine included.

All corners of the political spectrum have their pluses and minuses, that is true. We could go on all day discussing them. But amid the deafening noise, these remain as big question marks for me: Why do some people not believe that politics is personal? And why do they seem to never listen? I subscribe to the student movement and second-wave feminism rallying cry “the personal is political,” which emphasizes that our personal experiences are tied to sociopolitical structures. I believe that our political sensibilities are beyond candidate preferences. They indicate our values, beliefs, ideology, gender, race, religion, even the food we eat. They are linked to our identity, to our notions of human decency and sense of morality.

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It is one thing to disagree about what the world’s best ice cream flavor is, and it is another to disagree about whether violating human rights is acceptable. I find it extremely hard to be friends with or even be around someone who does not believe that freedom of speech matters, who discriminates against me because I am gay, who glosses over rape culture, who turns a blind eye to injustices, who vindicates the culprits, and who supports an oppressive agenda. Human rights belong to each one of us, so discussing whether pineapples are okay in pizza is vastly different from asking why people are being killed or are not being given fair trial.

One friend recently asked me about apolitical people, the ones who feel “meh” about politics. This is exactly what I told him: “I have to admit that I have no full understanding of apoliticism. Reasons why people choose to not get themselves involved with politics vary. But it’s a privilege not everyone can afford. To me, feeling ‘meh’ is still a political choice. For instance, ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. To this day, they face violence, threats, and neglect. They are excluded from political participation because of their ethnicity; hence, they’re unable to advocate for their own rights. These ethnically marginalized groups cannot afford to be apolitical, while we have the luxury to be politically neutral or disengaged because we are living in comfort and are not part of that oppressive system. And if one gives it a shrug, I think there’s something wrong with that. Nonchalance is dangerous.”

Our political beliefs and behavior inform the way we improve (or worsen) the condition of our communities and our country. Sharing knowledge is just as important to me as sharing understanding. As an advocate of compassionate politics, I have no capacity for hatred. I listen. I listen to anyone —t o everyone who wants to speak. But when it’s my turn, some people misconstrue it as belittling them and making them feel inferior, because I express political views that are multidimensional, values-centered, and evidence-informed. I teach myself to the best of my ability to shape my own beliefs and not to find and solidify my stance based on mockery, false dichotomies, cheap jokes, and unverifiable Facebook, YouTube, or TikTok content. I try to take the high road, and I am well-meaning in wanting to hold people to the highest standards as I would our nation’s leaders. Because these people are my friends — whom I love, whose lives I want to be better.

But if willingness to listen and receptiveness seem impossible, how do we move forward?

This is when I am forced to rethink friendships. I distance myself from them for a reason. This is not to say that I straightaway “unfriend” them because of their differing political stance. If after doing my part—to listen, to speak, to find common ground in our disagreements—they remain hostile, then I see it as a closed loop. Friendship is supposed to be a two-way street.

It is sad to see friendships, or any other relationships, fall apart because of political differences. But if any of my friends turn out to be prejudiced persons who trample on human rights or support those who do so, then I do not want to be friends with them. There is no room in my life for anything that puts human lives at risk.

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Grepel Niebres, 28, from Cavite, is a communications professional and educator. He is taking up his master’s degree in development communication and dabbles in feature writing and filmmaking.

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