Artwork by Megan Smith
Stripped right down to it’s bones, friendship is a relationship between people who simply enjoy one another's company. In reality friendship is vastly more complicated than this simple definition. Friendship is a supportive allyship built on a state of mutual trust between companions. Friendships are formed through shared experiences and values. They make us feel safe, accepted, loved. We rely on friendships to hold us up in hard times, to celebrate with us in good times, and to always be there through whatever may come.
We know that friendship contributes greatly to improved mental health; knowing someone is always there for you to offer a helping hand goes miles in relieving many worries and encourages us to improve our lives. Science has now shown that because of this, healthy relationships actively contribute to good physical health. Strong relationships reduce feelings of loneliness and, in turn, can decrease health problems related to the isolating feeling - friendship can even half the risk of premature death!
Take a look at the people you’ve surrounded yourself with and you’ll probably find that you have a lot in common with them all. This is because humans have a natural desire for belonging and acceptance that draws us to build friendships with like minded people. These friends who share interests, tastes, values and preferences, as well as making good company, fill a practical need in validating one's own personal likes and dislikes.
While we are drawn to people similar to ourselves, diversity within friendships is also vitally important. Diverse social attributes, such as gender, race, sexuality, religion and class within friendships helps to reduce prejudice and broaden social perspective. It is unlikely that there’s a need here to explain the positive effects of diversity amongst friends, but there is one thing I believe should not be diverse in a friendship; moral values.
So what are moral values? Moral values are at the very core of who a person is. They are the basis of everything a person believes in and stands for; their belief systems, ethics, and character. Friendships built on differing moral values don’t last very long, if they come about at all, because friendship relies on these shared morals to create a meaningful connection between people.
While it is nice to be able to share hobbies with friends, friendships founded on shared moral ideals connect people at a deep level regardless of their more superficial interests. While you may have first bonded with someone over a shared interest, your friendship will grow as you find more shared attributes upon which to strengthen that relationship. You also may have those friends where you find near nothing in common but still are drawn to one another based on shared core values - these friendships are vital in your human growth. Differing interests amongst those surrounding a person actually helps in building stronger, more supportive friendships that aid in broadening your world perspective and expanding your comfort zone.
But sometimes, no matter how alike you and a possible new friend seem to be, you may just not ‘click’. Or maybe you and an old friend are butting heads more than you used to. You should get along with them, you both love the same things, you dress similarly, you have a lot of mutual friends and interests - so why isn’t it working? It’s important to remember that interests do not speak for someone’s character; common interests should not be misinterpreted as shared core values. This is a reality many have had to face over the past few years. The increasing political polarisation across the UK, majoritively thanks to Brexit, has fractured many long established friendships as well as prevented new ones. People have been forced to uproot their own moral values and compare them to those of not only political manifestos and behaviour, but of their friends too.
You can see a friend's views as so unacceptable, so polar opposite to your own, that a friendship with them is no longer possible. It is not simply a difference of opinion but a difference in values. Disagreeing about something such as tax policy is one thing, it is another to argue about whether or not certain people deserve fundamental rights. You are not just judging a friend’s political stance anymore, you’re seeing their differences as ones of basic morality, a clash of core values that cannot be overlooked.
It goes without saying that you should also be able to respectfully disagree with opposing opinions. Shared interests and values are important in relationships, but so is being able to hold differing opinions without unfairly pushing your ideologies on one another. Slight difference in ideals does not mean you cannot maintain a friendship, but when someone's values are fundamentally at odds with those of another, there can be no healthy, mutual respect there to continue a mutually satisfying relationship.
The saying goes ‘you are the company you keep’ and science can back this up. The people you surround yourself with influence the values that go straight to the core of who you are as a person. This can often be a positive occurrence, adopting values held by good people you surround yourself with; improved time keeping, higher confidence levels, even healthier eating habits. But when surrounded by those with differing ideologies, you can find yourself stressed, feeling ignored and frustrated at your peers. At worse, you could find yourself becoming indifferent to values you once furiously opposed by making excuses for poor behaviour in order to cling onto an unhealthy friendship.
When someone believes that the values held by a friend are inherently immoral, conflict is inevitable. There is no shame in cutting off friends whose values no longer align with your own - in fact it’s healthy. If you find your values in conflict with those of a friend, you will affect your own progress by pushing for something that they cannot give you. In trying to impose your values on them, your efforts will undermine the love, care, trust, and respect needed in a friendship.
Remember that someone’s values are a pretty reasonable thing to judge them for. We would be naive not to look at a person’s character and judge them for that. Value yourself enough to prioritise your own values and surround yourself with people who respect and understand them - and you.
Article by Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse