I ran into someone I know yesterday - luckily I didn't literally run into him, as he was driving an enormous four-wheel drive (4WD) at the time. I hadn't known he owned a car like that (in fact, he might not own it - I didn't get a chance to ask.)
I'm just an average 4WD hater. I have the usual reasons - that they guzzle petrol, take up so much parking space, block my vision when I'm driving.
And as a cyclist, I detest them. Or maybe I should say I detest the way they're often driven. I have no problem with Sydney's buses, which are extremely large vehicles but usually move at a slow and predictable pace - the drivers are considerate and careful. The people behind the wheels of 4WDs, on the other hand, are often living cliches - young, lone drivers with a cigarette in one hand, a mobile phone in the other, roaring down the bus lane, oblivious to my presence on a bicycle.
So I was perturbed to see this person I know and like driving one.
We hardly had a chance to speak, but would I have raised my feelings with him if we had? Probably not.
Does that make me an unethical coward? Possibly. Or maybe just a realist and not a moralist. I'm not sure. (Maybe my Catholic background leads me to ask such questions.)
We have friends with two young kids who smoke. (The parents smoke, not the kids.) The mother smoked through part of each pregnancy. They do go outside to smoke, but I'm sure their children get a good dose of passive smoking each day. The older kid has had more than the usual number of colds in her short life.
Have we ever said anything to them? No. They're both intelligent people who know all about the dangers of smoking. Unless we were to offer substantial support in giving up, there's no point in introducing friction and judgementalism into our relationship.
Where do you draw the line in friendships when it comes to words or behaviours or beliefs that you disapprove or or don't like or even actively oppose? (Maybe to put it in terms of 'drawing a line' is to be self righteous in the first place?)
When I was young - in my 20s - my friends tended to be people like me: young, politically active, feminist, etc. We met through living in group households, through being in political groups together and so on. In my 30s and 40s, this changed, radically. I met new friends through work, through the neighbourhood, through walking our dogs in the park, through motherhood - and of course, through my partner, who met her friends through a work scene which is very different to mine.
Though our motley gang of friends are of different ages, backgrounds and living situations, nearly all are lefties, in the broadest sense of the word. Actually, 'leftie' is not a word I could apply to several of them, but neither are they strictly conventional or traditionalist types. I guess being friends with a pair of lesbian mothers tends to rule that out. Let's say I don't knowingly have friends who would vote for John Howard or who think the invasion of Iraq was a good thing or who are prejudiced and hating towards people who are different from them. I do have friends who use the word "c*unt" as a term of abuse, something I dislike. I have friends who are adamant Zionists, though I don't know the detail of their perspective - we just don't go there. I have friends who have expressed anti-semitic sentiments in my hearing. I have friends who have said things which were explicitly anti-Muslim. I know people who I suspect of a male-directed homophobia. I have friends who have much narrower ideas about gender roles for their children - and themselves - than I do. I have friends who use the word "negro". I have friends who drive everywhere. And so on.
In all these cases, I feel disturbed when a point of ethical or political friction arises, but I usually say nothing. We all make compromises in our lives and lifestyles and who am I to say that my compromises are superior to someone else's.
I don't mean to say that all of the issues I outlined above are equivalent. Dressing a daughter entirely in pink is hardly the same as thinking in anti-semitic stereotypes. If someone said something anti-semitic in conversation with me, I think it would be remiss of me to let it pass without comment. In those situations, though, I find it hard to strike the right note. It's easy to make someone feel humiliated and defensive, so that they reject what you're saying, which almost defeats the point.
Years ago I was working in a hospital and a patient said something very racist about a program he was watching on tv, assuming everyone around him would share his point of view. One of the nurses immediately disagreed with him, in a very direct but not put-downy way. I wish I'd taken notes that day. I find that kind of confrontation very hard to pull off.
We have heterosexual friends, who already have children, who are going to get married this year. If they invite me, I'm going to decline. I'll write a letter telling them my reasons (ie that it's illegal for me and co-parent to get married). That's about as confrontational as I usually get, in real life.