I was talking to someone once and I sent him my favorite song. ‘I don’t know if it’s your style, but give it a try!’, I told him, after sending him the link. He told me not to worry – whether he liked it or not, we could have different taste and still get on well with each other. I agreed with his words. I always believed that being friends with people who had different taste or opinions can help me, as an individual, grow. So even if my songs were not great for him or his songs were not my piece of cake, we did not hold grudges. Some weeks after this moment, we had very different points of view related to one specific subject. After that conversation, we never spoke to each other again. That was the moment I realized once again how easy it was to create distance between people by addressing some topics.
Therefore, here are 5 topics I could think of, that can easily create distance between people, no matter how close they are or how many things they think they have in common.
Named after Aristotle’s famous work, Politika (meaning “affairs of the cities”), politics is everywhere. But first – what is politics? In very simple terms, politics is defined as “the activities of the law-making organizations or people who try to influence the way a country is governed”. Politics is related to decision-making. When it comes to politics, values should not be forgotten. These values can bring us together or create some distance. During the last presidential campaign between Biden and Trump in the USA, back in 2020, the National Public Radio wrote an article about how “politics tears families and friendships apart”. It was said that nearly 80% of Americans had, at that point, “just a few” or no friends at all who supported the other candidate. This segregation based on political views got the name of “Dueling Realities”. Because of these ideological differences between democrats and republicans, the “2020 turnout was the highest in over a century” – 66.3% of the eligible people voted in the USA, writes The Washington Post.
In Romania, as in the rest of the world, elections and any kind of voting phases can spark disputes regarding political views. Even if we say that we don’t care about politics or we don’t want to get involved in it, we still have (or should have) some values when it comes to decision-making.
2. Minority rights
In the Minority Rights: International Standards and Guidance for Implementation, a minority is defined as “a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a State, whose members possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population”. In other words, minority rights are basic human rights for groups placed in a non-dominant position. Minority Rights Group International is a human rights organization which “ensures that disadvantaged minorities can make their voice heard”. The organization mentions “age, class, gender and disabilities” as tools of discrimination against minorities.
In the last few years, diversity and acceptance have gotten more and more attention from the public. The EEA Grants refers to the LGBT+ community as an “invisible minority” and their projects aspire to help people from these groups handle their problems better. There are some estimations about how many people are part of a sexual minority, but statistics aren’t very clear as the subject is still considered a taboo-topic in many places around the world. However, in 2019, the School of Medicine from Yale University published an article, showing that “an estimated 83% percent of those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual keep their orientation hidden from all or most of the people in their lives”.
But if you were not a part of a minority, why would you have a dispute with a friend on such a topic? Vivien Guiaș says that she and her friend knew each other for nearly a year and a half when “we were downtown for a walk and as in every city, you may see a same-sex couple that holds hands. And he started showing me that those two people were… not straight.” Vivien told her friend that it is normal for two people who love each other to hold hands outside. “It was their life, so I didn’t see the point in judging them. But he insisted that what he was seeing was abnormal. I didn’t want to fight so I let him be.” Even if she and her friend are not that close anymore, partly because of these very different opinions, Vivien thinks that we should talk about these topics. “Of course, we shouldn’t start a fight whenever these subjects come up, but I believe that you should come with arguments to sustain your point of view when you express your opinion.”
3. Pro-choice versus pro-life
The abortion debate has always been a daring subject. There are two major directions when it comes to this topic: pro-choice and pro-life. As stated in an article from The Conversation, about this matter, there are specific arguments used by the two parties. Firstly, people who identify themselves as being on the pro-choice half may state that the mother has her right to bodily autonomy. On the other hand, pro-lifers insist that the fetus’ right to live comes before the mother’s right to choose. They may even add that the fetus feels pain during the operation. Now let’s get one thing straight: a human fetus does not have the possibility to feel pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation, writes The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This is one of the reasons why in some countries abortions are legal up to a specific trimester of the pregnancy.
This is the topic that made me and my then-friend stop talking. He told me that an abortion done without a medical reason is “murdering the kid”. I tried to say that the “kid” he wanted to be left to live was not actually a kid, but a fetus who cannot feel pain and that actually no one wants to go through an abortion. He didn’t want to listen and continued by telling me that I’m missing ethics and then left the conversation.
4. Gender-based issues
Gender equality is one of the main goals of the United Nations for sustainable development. In their article written about this topic, gender equality is addressed by not being only “a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world”. Gender-based issues may vary from violence drawn to especially one gender to receiving less or more money for the same work just because of one’s gender. Toxic femininity and toxic masculinity are problems that put barriers between people. Both of these behaviors are designed to make people fit in a certain category – they try to preach what an individual needs to do to be considered a “real woman” or a “real man”.
In friendships or any kind of relationships, gender-based topics, such as gender inequality, should be addressed as seriously as they can, because they are no joke. Being told not to cry because you’re a guy or not to get involved in thought-smart activities because you’re a girl may not align with everyone’s set of values and beliefs. Therefore, talking calmly about these subjects might be a way of embracing differences. If, however, there are sexist jokes and remarks, distancing yourself after trying to talk is not something to be ashamed of.
One clear example of gender related issues is what happened to Ioana Cosma in June, 2021. In Romania, she is the first woman-commentator of the European Football Championship. This could have been understood as a way of getting closer to each other and ending the stereotype that “football is only for men”. However, some comments posted by some Romanian fans were not so happy about “a woman in a man’s place”. The FILIA Center posted some screenshots of the comment section where some people felt free to express their feelings by calling Ioana Cosma “stupid”. More than that, they were unhappy about not being able to “relax” during a football game because of a “woman’s voice”.
5. The pandemic
The pandemic and all of its aspects were and still are a way of choosing the people we want to have around us. Even though no one wanted the pandemic to happen, how we handled it said a lot about all of us. Some of us decided to correctly wear a mask the whole time and get the vaccine as soon as we were able to receive it. Some of us wore a mask because “we had to” just in order not to get fined. And some of us worn it completely wrong, under our noses or literally just on our noses (I still have no idea how that happened); we probably denied the importance of the vaccine and got into a lot of groups that could provide us not-so-scientific information, but still – those groups made us feel important and heard.
There were even people who organized protests “against” the “fake” virus and against the need of wearing a mask. But what do you do when your friends believe that the virus is a hoax and masks are useless and you disagree with them? Do you tell them your opinion and risk your friendship? Do you keep your ideas to yourself? Elena Ungureanu decided to speak her mind in a conversation with a friend, related to this kind of protests. She and her friend have known each other since high school. Elena says they never argued when they were classmates. After some time, her friend moved to another country, but they continued their friendship. “But then, the pandemic came. And we all know about the protests. This friend of mine posted a clip where she supported the protests, by saying that she felt «proud to be Romanian» just because people were out on the streets against… a virus. This attitude bothered me because I knew a lot of people who fought the virus.” So, she decided to text her friend what was in her mind. “I told her this is not fine [to promote those protests] and I asked why she would support this kind of behavior. She told me that the virus didn’t exist.” They continued talking and Elena reminded her friend of the times when some protesters stopped ambulances from arriving at the hospital or when protests took place in front of places where patients were treated. “After tens of minutes of talking I saw we really can’t agree on this matter so I suggested that we stop the conversation there. She agreed.” After not talking for a period, now they talk again and they are “fine” with each other. “I think we should talk about these topics, even if they are sensitive subjects. I don’t want to fight over anything, but some things need to be addressed – with calm and respect, of course.”
“Creating distance” may seem a bit of a harsh reality, but sometimes we need to distance ourselves, in order to see the full picture. Debating any of these topics can help us all become better. But there is one thing about debates that some people sometimes forget: debates are built on valid arguments, not on insults and ad-hominem attacks. So, we “agree to disagree” but up to what point? Maybe up to the point where the respect shown by both sides is still in the game.
All in all, whether we lose some friendships or not, I think it is important to talk about these topics. After writing all these words, the title seems to be lacking something. I read somewhere that it is fine to change your mind on a topic after you learnt and understood more about it. So, maybe, it would have been better to name this “5 topics that can create distance between people but can help them grow”. This version sounds a little bit better. But we can have a debate on this, too.