In early January, I logged into Facebook and noticed the status of my good friend “M” that struck a chord. She said:
Trying to remind myself that just because a cause is important for me, it doesn’t mean it will automatically be important to my friends. And that their choices are their own even if they go against my fundamental beliefs and I have to respect their decisions, but it’s not easy.
Hers is an astute statement, and one of the most important truths one can–and arguably must–face about one’s friends and relatives. But it seems to be getting harder and harder. We are more unapologetic than ever about our standards and beliefs; we hold our ideals close to our hearts more fiercely than ever. So where does that leave a friendship when one party makes a move or statement that completely goes against the other’s ethics and standards?
My friend M is a staunch defender of animals. She is adoptive mother to a beloved rescue dog to whom she devotes much care and affection; she also uses much of her free time to further the cause of mistreated animals, always encouraging people to adopt animals if they are looking to grow their clan with four-legged cuties. After M posted her Facebook status, she later explained her sadness and frustration to me privately: on a day that she was running an adoption event for rescued dogs, one of her best friends went to the mall, and decided on a whim to buy a dog from a pet shop that sources its dogs from puppy mills, hence promoting and perpetuating inhumane treatment of animals. Sadly, this friend has volunteered at some of M’s animal rescue events, and is aware of the shop’s bad practices. So the friend posted pics of the new puppy on Facebook, and M, surprised to see the new dog, messaged her and said, ‘pleeease tell me you adopted the puppy.’ Friend’s response: ‘Oh, sorry girl, we were in the mall and it was a spur of the moment thing.’ For M, the spur of the moment aspect is one of the worst things about the whole situation, being that most people get cats and dogs on the “spur of the moment” then get fed up with the work several months later and get rid of them, contributing to an already uncontrollable situation for animal shelters. I feel my friend’s pain: that flaky buy-and-ditch behavior with animals has soured me on several people I know personally.
To M, the treatment of abused animals is wholly important and an issue of ethics and morality; to her friend, it’s kind of nothing. Where do you draw the line? After all, this wasn’t a disagreement about where to eat for dinner. When you truly don’t see eye to eye with a close friend or relative about something that “counts,” are you able to forget the difference of opinion easily? In the spirit of honesty, I admit that I can’t get past certain differences, even with people I love. For instance: I have felt a dramatic roller-coaster-stomach-dropping sense of disappointment during conversations that revealed certain friends of mine to be genuine bigots. Did I begin to feel a toxic hatred for them? No, because I don’t like to feel toxic hatred for people, but the truth is that I never thought of them in the same way again, and I ended up distancing myself emotionally from those friends. Was this judgmental and harsh of me? Should I have tried to change my former friends’ minds? I’m not a confrontational person, so that wouldn’t have been my style. Should I have had a mindset of “friends can disagree, let’s move past this”? That wouldn’t have worked for me–my memory’s too clear to ignore and forget that type of thing.
My friend M? Though thoroughly disappointed in her friend’s on-a-whim pet store purchase, she didn’t want to dampen her buddy’s happiness and excitement of having a new puppy in the house, so instead of criticizing, she chose to insist that her friend put the dog in training school to avoid a future “this dog’s out of hand” situation. She also offered to lend her books on dog-rearing. Her friend didn’t show interest. In the weeks that have passed since that day, she has not had any further contact with her friend, and confesses that she can’t help but feel disengaged from the relationship.
What constitutes a deal-breaker for you in a friendship? Are you able to disregard major differences with your friends?
**Photo: “We’re not friends anymore” by JMParrone