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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Vexed: The future of friendships in the age of opinions

Vexed: The future of friendships in the age of opinions

  • Relationships used to get strained by what people did to us but how people think can now test old bonds.

That people could give up friends merely for their views was unusual until recently.

I used to be friends with people who had a moral compass, but I lost many of them after they started reading my column. I still know a few, like a young journalist named Nidhi Suresh, even though she has been thinking of getting rid of some friends. It is the times.

I used to be friends with people who had a moral compass, but I lost many of them after they started reading my column. I still know a few, like a young journalist named Nidhi Suresh, even though she has been thinking of getting rid of some friends. It is the times.

She was in Ayodhya last week. The fervour of the new temple there has not consumed her, but she saw on social media some of her friends, with whom she may have shared broccoli and other liberal greens, posting their joy. It is a type of joy that inevitably has the quality of glee, and she has begun to wonder what it is that she loves about those friends, and whether she can still love them now that she knows there is something of the mainstream in them. She wonders how to stay true to friends when you cannot argue with them about their deepest beliefs. Thus she enters a confusion of our times.

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She was in Ayodhya last week. The fervour of the new temple there has not consumed her, but she saw on social media some of her friends, with whom she may have shared broccoli and other liberal greens, posting their joy. It is a type of joy that inevitably has the quality of glee, and she has begun to wonder what it is that she loves about those friends, and whether she can still love them now that she knows there is something of the mainstream in them. She wonders how to stay true to friends when you cannot argue with them about their deepest beliefs. Thus she enters a confusion of our times.

People are losing friends they have loved for decades. They are losing them over opinions. There was a time, not long ago, when very few people had any ideology. In fact, only elderly men had ideology, and there was a term for them. It was not ‘uncles.’ It was ‘ideologues.’ Nobody uses that word anymore because now we know that to be an ideologue is in the nature of our whole species. And it appears no one can hide their ideology anymore. As a result, across the nation, especially in the educated middle-class, people have been losing friends.

Once we disliked people only for what they did to us; now people dislike those who are close to them for how they think. When I tell Nidhi this, she says, “Maybe you will now roll your eyes, but I think as a woman. We, or at least I, always need to know what the person I’m speaking to is thinking. And not just doing. I don’t know how to separate the two."

That people could give up friends merely for their views was unusual until recently. I did lose some friends, in my twenties, over my opinion that Rahul Dravid was a mascot for people who had no panache in their own professions. But you can see how this view, sadly for me, was inescapably a personal comment on my friends. But such a loss was rare. Until about a decade ago.

Then things changed fast. Everybody could behave like a writer, and that threw cosmopolitan friendships into turmoil. You may feel things have subsided, but that is because everyone who had to lose friends already has. But then, a new generation has risen, happy gangs of dissimilar friends, who are yet to seriously read a newspaper but have begun to discover politics, and their bonds are probably doomed.

Everyone is affected by this, yet it is not a universal behaviour. People who consider themselves ‘liberal’ are more likely to break old friendships with those they consider “too right-wing," “too religious," “too conservative, “too nationalistic" and other European things.

The subject of their ire, the ‘right-wing’ people, for all their fulminations, seldom end a friendship just because someone believes in climate change, transgender rights or even secularism. They may detest intellectuals who stand for all this, but not if they are friends. On occasion, when they mock a whole group of people, they immediately say that famous thing: “Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are…." It does sound vacuous, yet they might be speaking the truth when they say that they may mock groups of people but they love their friends among them.

There is some consolation in this. A surprise of our times is that much of the knowable world has turned out to be ‘right-wing.’ Many conscientious women discovered their sweet fathers to be colony patriarchs. Oh, the things they began to say. Who knew affectionate fathers could say such things. Then it turned out that their mothers were no slouches themselves. And then young urban men, too, whose refinement did not save them from the fear of becoming cultural orphans.

“For a long time, I thought I had never been in love with right-wing men," Nidhi says. “But that’s actually not true. Everyone, or rather most men, have a shade of it within them." In her view, “Right-wing men... understand women in a very particular way. And that way has obviously seeped into this country’s everyday-ness. So I’ve found shades of it in my lovers as well. Maybe there’s shades of it in me as well, who knows? It has become increasingly difficult to say that I’ve not been with right-wing men."

“Also," she says, “a strange thing I’ve realized is that while reporting I’ve found myself feeling physically safer around right-wing men than our left men. Mostly because they (those with a moral compass) are strange creatures, preaching feminism to me, telling me what I should know about the world."

One of the great cons of our age has to be men pretending to have the same politics as women. The bond between men and women was the first foreboding that friendships are doomed by opinions. Spouses accuse each other in very personal ways, but often they are only reacting to fundamental differences in how most men and women think.

What a marriage should teach us but we never remember is that people are better than the things they say; people are better than their opinions. A friend is better than his mere ideology. People who like us have got something right about the world. How does it matter what has suddenly got into them. Half of ideology is anyway morning cortisol.

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