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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


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I struggle with this too, and I don't know the answers.

Back maybe 10 or 15 years ago, a few of my closest long-time friends got together and started going to watch people strip off their clothes. I find the whole idea of strippers absolutely abhorent from start to finish, and I was honestly shocked that my friends didn't seem to see anything wrong with going to see them. My code of values at the time said that I shouldn't be friends with these people anymore. But these people were a number of my closest long-time friends, and I knew that they were otherwise good and ethical people. So I struggled long and hard with this issue, and I did see less of them while I was thinking things over. It occurred to me that if I tried to insist that all of my friends have exactly the same values and life-choices as me, then I would someday end up with no friends. So I decided that my role as a friend is to accept my friends' choices, even when they are not ones that I agree with. I am never ever *ever* going to go to a strip club with my friends. (And anyway, they've grown up and had kids now and probably don't go anymore.) I still rest uneasily with this.

Anyway, I would rather not get into a debate over the question of whether it's a good idea to go to strip clubs. The point I'm making is that I agree that it's very hard to sit by and watch people make a choice that I find utterly wrong. But I think that it's something that sometimes friends have to do in order to preserve the friendship.

When do you draw the line between what you can accept vs. what's so big that it ends the friendship? I don't know. I never thought I'd be friends with people who go watch strippers. And yet I am. And my friends who go do that are otherwise perfectly nice, honorable, ethical people. I guess they'd have to come up with something bigger if they wanted to offend me enough to get rid of me.

Oh, one more thought. Same friends, 8 years ago when two of them got married. At the wedding, I was in charge of driving the mother and sister of the groom from the hairstylists to the wedding. I am Jewish. In my car, the mother of the groom made an antisemitic comment that I found pretty offensive. She had no idea that I was offended. I don't think she even realized that her comment could be offensive to anyone. In my mind I very briefly toyed with the idea of either asking her to leave my car or telling her that that type of comment was not welcome in my car. But I figured that this was not an incident that I wanted to have happen on my friends' wedding day. So I didn't say anything then, and to this day I've never told my friends about it.

I *think* I did the right thing, under the circumstances. I strongly wouldn't want to cause an incident at someone's wedding. But to this day I keep wondering if I could have handled it in some other way.

From what I know of you - from your blog - I would say that you're a very caring and tolerant person, and this post just confirms this, in my opinion anyway. I am one of those people who tends to speak up when someone says something I find offensive, and I have come to learn (and am probably still learning) that this is not always the best thing to do.

I have many different friends from all ages and walks of life, and not all get on with or even know each other. For example, I have friends who are ethnic, friends who are asian, and some of my closest friends growing up were gay. I have rich and very working class friends. I have had friends from all politcal walks of life over the years.

When I hear a friend make a comment in passing about, for example, how the asians are "taking over" it's hard for me not to say something. I feel bad if I say nothing because I have asian friends who have been treated very badly, but do I open my big mouth and judge this person who may simply be speaking out of fear and ignorance? Do I jeopardise a freindship over this?

To make matters worse, most of the time I am 'pre-judged' as someone who is very traditional & narrow-minded, I guess because I live in suburbia and am married with a child and don't 'look' particularly anything-but your standard suburban type person (not trying to sterotype suburbia, but ykwim). So it has been the case where people have made friends with me, assuming I'm anti-this and anti-that, and then out come the comments.

Hmmm...it's a hard one, isn't it? I would like to err on the side of caution, but sometimes, for me anyway, it's just not possible!

Great post, really got me thinking.

I think you won't mind if I go off on a tangent. I'm stuck on this thought.... I frequently dress my daughter entirely in pink...but she insists on it. Is that terrible of me? :-) (I hated it as a child and her love for it baffles me) Also, when she had a short "boy" haircut she could be dressed head to toe in pink/purple and people would still call her a boy, which she found very frustrating and is why she is insisting on growing her hair long again.

I've run into this situation many times but I don't find I have the nerve to speak up very often. When I do, it's fairly mild.

A sort of related situation occurred for many years with a friend who smoked all the time. Our sons would play together but I tried to avoid going to their house due to the smoking because she had no concerns about smoking around the kids. She did eventually quit several years ago after her husband had a major health scare and was told he had to quit.

I have another friend who immigrated her from England several years ago and I find she often makes remarks about certain ethnic and racial groups that are offensive. I don't really think she means all of what she is saying but the way it comes out isn't nice. I don't see her that much these days and when I do, I find her to be pretty shallow so I suspect this is a friendship that won't be so long-lasting. We are just too different in our thinking. Her sons were friends of mine, which is where we had common ground. Now they don't see each other so we are drifting apart.

Valerie, your second example especially is the type which I find very difficult - usually they occur out of the blue, you're taken by surprise and can't come up with a fitting reply or action. I was with a Jewish friend of mine when someone said something ... not exactly anti-semitic, but borderline, and obviously unaware that anyone Jewish was present. My friend said calmly, "We're Jewish and we think..." and the situation stayed calm and okay. Humour of course is also very helpful, but not something I'm an expert at. Some people have the knack of gently poking fun at someone in a way they can't take umbrage at but which doesn't allow them to get away with their prejudice (or with voicing their prejudice - who knows if saying anything makes a difference to what they think or feel.)

This is a curly one! I just had this conversation with a friend of mine - somewhat obliquely as he'd just told me he'd just got a job with a company which mines uranium in australia - something I have big ethical concerns with.

I think the only thing you can do (when it really is a good friend or someone you value) is to query them about it, and try and give your view without it coming over as a judgement or a correction.

Where the comment is a racist or prejudiced one, I think it is often better to query the faulty assumptions underlying the comment rather than to start calling names. Eg to say something like "how did you come to that conclusion?" or "but I know plenty of bad drivers/ people who treat women badly / people with bad dress sense who aren't jewish / gay /asian / muslim - what about them?" or "hang on, are you saying that all ..... people ......?"

And with a friend, it might be easier to bring it up later when you are one on one.

With the smoking - not much you can do, but avoid it when you are around them. Giving up is bloody hard, and I think you can be a good parent and still smoke.

Very much with Lori on this. When there is something direct like racism or sexism and its said seriously, not just as a windup, it's kind of an obligation to make sure they don't "get away with it". And an oblique remark that points out the contradictory nature of the statement or a little joke is probably better than getting all confrontational and demanding someone leave the car or something. There is a middleground. I very rarely hear remarks of that kind though.

More often the tough question is about the guy who just got a job with an Uranium mining company or, even better, a lobbyist for Uranium mining in Australia. It's absolutely not clear cut. In fact it's very complex. By purchasing anything from anyone in Australia we are all part of the same economy so who are we to criticise someone for getting a job. In such a case there is no obligation to speak up. And it's the person's personality and core values that either confirms the friendship for you or makes it fail, not the fact they took a job with a company you are ethically opposed to.

What a great site! I've recently been struggling with an ethical issue involving a friend who started having seizures. Her doctor put her on meds., but so far without success. She told me that she can't tell her doctor that she continues to have seizures because he would have her driver's license revolked. What would a close friend do in this case... alert the authorities, or keep the friend's confidence?

Donna, I think the larger issue is about your friend's health. (Forget about driving the car for a minute.) If she's continuing to have seizures but hiding that from her doctor, she's not getting the best medical care she could. She's in danger herself, let alone putting other people in danger. So I'd talk to her about that, try and persuade her to tell the doctor she still has fits, for her own sake. I have an epileptic friend and she can drive as she hasn't had a fit in along time. If your friend gets her fits under control, she'd be able to drive - she needs to come to terms with that.

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