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The Importance of Having Friends You Disagree With

By Jamie Rodney

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am intensely, some would say unhealthily, political. My phone wallpaper and lockscreen are both pictures of Labour Politicians. My idea of a fun night in is reading Yougov polls and arguing with complete strangers on the internet about just how responsible Jim Murphy was for the meltdown of Scottish Labour in 2015 (not at all responsible, since you asked). And, in both 2015 and 2017, I spent large chunks of my summer knocking on doors and pushing leaflets through letterboxes on behalf of the Labour Party.

Unless you're as much of a politics geek as me, you're probably about to lose interest in this article after reading that first paragraph, so let me just clarify, while this article was partly written in response to the election yesterday, it's not going to be a political screed. Instead, I'm going to talk about a slight epiphany I had on election night, and why I think it's important.

Flashback to two years ago, where my 18 year old, pre-St Andrews self was, just like I am now, trying to adjust to the dramatic, unexpected results of a General Election. That was a very different result, and I was (I would like to think) a very different person in all kinds of ways, but there's only one change between 2015 Jamie and 2017 Jamie that's relevant to this particular article. Back then, I had ab zero tolerance for people who disagreed with me. Anyone who didn't sign up to my particular brand of pro-EU, pro-UK centre-leftism was an enemy, and should be treated as such. Nowadays, I've got more friends whose views my younger self would have seen as ignorant at best and fascistic at worst, than those I agree with. I spent the runup to the last election being informed by my friends why exactly all of my core beliefs were wrong.

And it was great.

This is potentially the politics geek in me speaking, but I think there's something really special about being able to disagree passionately with someone on almost everything, and still maintain mutual respect for each other. Having friends you disagree with means you can have better conversations, clearer perspectives. It means you can defend your own positions more strongly, too- saying "Anyone who disagrees with me has to be a bad person and should shut up" is never a great counterargument.

This is especially important for St Andrews students. With people from all around the world crammed into three streets on the coast of Fife, there's probably no better place for meeting people whose perspectives- whether political, religious, or anything else- differ from yours.

Sadly, St Andrews students don't always make the most of this opportunity. I know people who, just like me a couple of years ago, actually make a point of shutting themselves off from those that disagree with them. What with Trump, Brexit, two general elections and all the division and polarisation they have caused, these attitudes are becoming more common, but we owe it to ourselves to overcome them. Because when we do, the results can be truly beautiful. One of my favourite memories of last year was what those who were there have taken to calling "The Miracle on Bell Street", when a group of Socialist Society members crashed an Inauguration Party for President Trump held by the Republicans Overseas society in Aikmans, resulting in the two groups, despite their differences, having a night of intense but respectful political discussion.

On a more personal level, I'm really pleased that I managed to shake off the sectarian baggage my younger self clung on to, and traded a vauge, misguided sense of moral purity for relationships with some of the best people I've ever met. I'm hopefully going to Shetland this reading week with two Brexiteers and one supporter of Scottish independence. My eighteen year old self would call that selling out. I call it growing up.

And if you disagree then you, like him, are a bad person and should shut up.

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