• Keeping Friends

Friendship and Morals: Before, During and After The Age of Trump

Published: December 3, 2021 | Last Updated: January 12, 2023 By | Reply Continue Reading
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It’s hard to feel close to a friend whose morals and values are widely discrepant from your own. But this issue never felt as worrisome as it does today

Recently, I was at a neighbor’s home when, out of the blue, she started talking about politics ad nauseam. And her leanings were 180-degrees apart from mine.

To avoid conflict, I tried veering our conversation to another topic, actually with some success. But her uninvited political rhetoric left a bad taste in my mouth. We had never had discussions about politics before. And after we had this one, admittedly, I felt more distant from her. 

Friendship and Morals: On YouTube

There’s a great episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David is lusting after an actress. They finally get to make out on a sofa in her dressing room—until the spell is suddenly broken.

He looks up and discovers a photo of President George Bush on her side table. “You’re a Republican?” he asks.

That show aired in 2008 and since then, political discourse has grown even more inflammatory, evidence of the widening gulf in values between people across the globe, not just in the U.S., in terms of religion, guns, the role of government, immigration, social welfare and equity, etc. 

As one case in point, a Brookings poll found the extent to which people make medical/scientific decisions about whether or not to get vaccinated have become highly partisan.

Morality and ethics in friendships

Many followers of this blog have written about friendships and morals, specifically how having different values and standards has affected their friendships.

A study looks at forgiveness towards friends versus strangers

Rachel Forbes, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto, recently conducted four experiments—involving more than 1,100 participants—that looked at “forgiveness” when an individual’s friends, romantic partners, or family members behave unethically.

The study, entitled “When the Ones We Love Misbehave: Exploring Moral Processes within Intimate Bonds,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sought to examine the conflict between upholding one’s moral values and maintaining relationships.

The findings of this preliminary research suggest that people tend to be more lenient toward close others who transgress than they are to strangers. They feel “less anger, contempt, and disgust toward them.” 

Also, interestingly, the investigators reported that participants had “more negative responses toward the self, feeling more shame, guilt, and embarrassment despite having no role in the unethical act.”

In other words, friends are probably more likely to be forgiving of their close friends, even to the extent that it causes upset and distress to themselves. Perhaps, it is one measure of closeness, if we are able to turn a blind eye to what we perceive as a friend’s moral failings.

My takeaway lesson: Next time, I’ll look more closely at the context of the relationship overall and try to be less likely to judge if the relationship is a meaningful one.

Previously on The Friendship Blog


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