Sunday, May 26, 2024

To maintain friends with opposing views, listening may be key

In 1967, I met my best friend in Mrs. Steele’s fifth-grade class at School Street School in Boonton, New Jersey. My family had just moved to Boonton. Both the school and the town were new to me. I was 10 years old, and Boonton was the eighth town I had lived in. I was used to moving, but making new friends in a new town was always a challenge.

But my soon-to-be best friend and I quickly bonded over bowling, the hamburgers at the old Boonton Diner, and generally just hanging out. Ours has been a friendship that has survived through high school, during college and graduate school even though we were hundreds of miles apart, and as adults as we found our first jobs, fell in love with our eventual spouses, and built our respective families.

Before unlimited long distance on cell phones, email and text messaging, we would write occasional letters in between visits to fill one another in. After John Lennon was murdered in December 1980, I received a pre-stamped post card from my friend that had the question, “What do we do now?” typed on it. Without asking, I knew what he was referencing.

I bring this up now because of the questions I regularly get from readers about how to talk to family or friends when they find themselves on opposite sides of political or social issues. Sometimes a reader will question whether it’s wrong to stay friends with someone whose views you disagree with. My best friend and I hold opposing political views on most issues. We support none of the same candidates for national office. And we also find ourselves in disagreement over many social policy issues. Yet, even now that we live on opposite coasts, it’s not unusual for us to talk or text weekly.

Do we avoid talking politics or other thorny issues? No. But it’s never all that we talk about. We talk about our families, our work, the New York Yankees and who won the latest Super Bowl wager. When we do talk about politics, it can get heated, but we each seem pretty comfortable knowing we are not going to convert the other to our way of thinking. What’s important in the conversation, or at least seems to be, is that we listen to one another and trust each other to tell us what they believe and why. Sure, he does have a habit of sending me vintage T-shirts from political candidates he adores and I don’t, but humor can be a funny thing.

I am not holding myself or this friendship out for laudation. I suspect that there are far more people who are and remain friends with people who have differing views.

In his book, “Working,” writer Robert Caro writes that “silence is the weapon.” If we learn to shut up and listen we can sometimes appreciate why others believe what they do even if we disagree with them. Listening can be hard, but, at least in my experience, it has helped strengthen a five-decade long friendship.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


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