The politics of friendship

Students have the power now. “Republican” and “Democrat” are no longer abstract concepts. They are words of self-identification.

We’re Harvard-Westlake students. We’re passionate, opinionated, and argumentative, so political debates run rampant across our campus. They’re fun. We get excited. We feel righteous. We can’t wait to spew out our next piercing insight in the faces of our equally excited friends. Our rhetorical skirmishes just build and build as more and more people jump in. The skirmishes mushroom into full-fledged verbal battles.

And then we stop listening. We stop thinking rationally and forget that the defiant kids sitting across the table from us are our closest friends, and we start criticizing. We start saying things we wish we could take back. We start hurting.

It’s far too easy for a group of overzealous teenagers to gang up on a student with an underrepresented view. Even when there is no intent to harm, the sheer number of students in such groups will naturally intimidate and unsettle the lone voice of dissent.

We are pretty well-informed here. We read the paper, watch the news, and speak Jon Stewart’s lines along with him. But Jon Stewart’s newscasts are as superficial as they are entertaining. We’re informed, but only to a certain extent. We’re not on Capitol Hill and most of us don’t spend countless hours thoroughly researching topics before voicing our opinions. How can we possibly justify a claim that another person’s point of view is absolutely wrong when we don’t have the information to back it up?

And when it comes down to it, we’re still just kids. We lack life experience: we’ve never paid taxes, never held a full-time job, and never had to figure out how to make a living on our own. We don’t have the perspective to fully understand all sides of an issue. A controversial topic is controversial for a reason. If there was a clear right and wrong for an issue, it would have been resolved already.

We all embrace tolerance here. We all know that disrespecting a student for his/her political beliefs is wrong.

Let’s be sensitive, and let’s think before we speak. Friends are friends, no matter what their political beliefs are. No political disagreement is great enough to strain a friendship, no matter how “right” you may think you are.

Students shouldn’t be reluctant to express their opinions here. If we truly value our friends and open, fair debate, we’ll stop lashing and start listening.