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The friendships that don’t survive these troubled times

How much difference of opinion is too much? Sometimes you need to find new friends.
Isabelle Oderberg
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Illustration: TJI

Published: 20 June 2024

Last updated: 19 June 2024

As the tenor of political discourse ramps up to truly untenable cacophonic shrieking, and critical thinking falls to the wayside, so too have many of my friendships. 

Some of these have ended because I wanted them to. Some have ended because my (former) friends wanted them to. Some have ended by tacit or fiery mutual agreement. 

Either way, the end of any friendship results in some sadness. Sometimes it’s the size and weight of a grain of sand and sometimes it really does threaten to overwhelm you with a wave of grief or betrayal.

The magical power of hindsight is allowing me to focus on what I value in my friendships.

As we inch closer to the one-year anniversary of this horrific new status quo, the magical power of hindsight is allowing me to focus on what I value in my friendships. And what I simply won’t accept.  It’s been a painful but valuable lesson, because I take my friendships seriously. 

Decades ago, my then boyfriend, with whom I was planning a long and loving future, made one small comment that entirely changed the nature our relationship forever. 

“I won’t get my kid vaccinated. Those diseases don’t exist anymore”. 

As someone militantly pro-vaccination (something we’ll talk about another time), this was a painful curve ball. It broke me in so many ways. The total reliance on misinformation and conspiracy theory, the privilege of thinking that these diseases don’t exist because you haven’t had one and the arrogance to think you know better than an entire medical profession.  

So I did what I always do when life throws me a painful curve ball. 

I called my mum. 

“How much is too much of a difference in opinion? In outlook? In friendships? In relationships? Where are the lines? How much distance is too much distance?”

I grew up in a household where debate was plentiful and robust and I have always been surrounded by a range of political views and outlooks. But there has always been a line. What can we agree to disagree on? What do we feel so strongly about that another person’s views mean they lose our respect and therefore our ability to maintain a friendship? 

My mum reminded me something that happened when I was 16. A family member was invited to join a simcha at our home. He inquired (with a negative edge) as to whether our usual cohort of gay, male friends would be in attendance (I was raised in an environment with a lot of gay men). After a family meeting, he was told he wasn’t welcome. Not just in the house, but in our lives. 

If you don’t have respect for all human beings without question, and for their safety, I don’t want your friendship.

If someone’s “views” hurt other people meaningfully and intentionally, if they display bigotry, racism, a lack of universally humanity and respect for your fellow human, if they genuinely put people at risk, I have no interest in having them in my life. That’s ultimately where my line tends to fall.

If you don’t have respect for all human beings without question, and for their safety – physically, cultural or otherwise – I don’t want your friendship. Nuance and shades of grey are important, but some rules can never be broken.

I also believe in lifelong learning and educating yourself by doing the heavy lifting. If you’re engaging in group-think, purposefully retiring your ability to think critically, if you can’t bring yourself to pick up a book on the topic but put a keffiyeh on your cat, if your main news source is Tik Tok, Instagram or Twitter or anyone who lists their job title as “social media influencer”, we’re better off apart.

Because actively pandering to “what you think isn’t going to get you cancelled” shows a meaningful lack of integrity and a blatant hypocrisy with which I decline to surround myself. 

Through the pursuit of the binary, whichever binary it is that people fall into, there has been a concerted effort among people I know to purposefully and deliberately ignore or devalue the lives of people who sit in the other binary. This has happened to people I know, some of whom are fervently Zionist and some of whom are fervently pro-Palestinian. 

These are people who can’t hold two truths at once for fear of being judged or because they’ve well and truly supped on an extremist Kool Aid at either end of the spectrum. It was also the reason I was called both a Kapo and a Zionist Bitch on the same day four weeks ago. 

“Bullying don’t impress me much”. Shouting someone to recognise the humanity of people you’ve cared about for a hot minute, while totally disregarding the humanity or lived experience of others, or ignoring that some of us have been engaged on an issue for longer than you’ve even been alive, only shows your own moral, ethical and intellectual vacuousness. 

But I have two silver linings to offer if like me, you have watched so many people walk out of your life, by your design or theirs. 

Firstly, this makes space for new people in your life. People you do respect and with whom you share an ethical and moral framework. This doesn’t mean you’ll agree! Of course not. How utterly painfully boring life would be if you only surrounded yourself with people who share all of your opinions. 

But in attending Shabbat Club and reaching out for support, I have found new friendships, new kindnesses, new intellectual conversations and most importantly, a variety of perspectives and opinions I can learn from, people who, like me, reject the binary and are determined to make up their own minds with universal humanity at the centre of the opinions we choose to champion. 

And finally, never ever forget the words of the S.E. Hinton, author of the classic novel The Outsiders. “If you have two friends in your lifetime, you're lucky. If you have one good friend, you're more than lucky.”

About the author

Isabelle Oderberg

Isabelle Oderberg's journalism has appeared in The Age/SMH, Guardian, ABC, Meanjin and elsewhere. She also worked as a media and communications strategist across the not-for-profit sector. She is the author of Hard to Bear: Investigating the science and silence of miscarriage (Ultimo Press), and Chair of the Early Pregnancy Loss Coalition. Learn more at eplc.au.


  • Avatar of Kevin Judah White

    Kevin Judah White20 June at 12:44 pm

    Ditto – a top piece.

  • Avatar of philip mendes

    philip mendes20 June at 08:26 am

    Isabelle, I really liked your article. It resonates strongly with some of my experiences. As you say, if somebody says things about the Middle East that they know are not only politically, but personally, offensive, the best response may be to find new friends that genuinely have your back.

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