Feb 27, 2012

The Politics of Friendship

There I was, standing outside Government House at Paddington two Sundays ago, waiting for Premier Anna Bligh to kick this state election into gear - when my phone beeped with a text message.

It was an essay of an SMS from a dear friend of mine, and it left me as white as a bleached sheet under a UV light.

I won't include the full details, because I adore this friend of mine and I want to try repair any damage to our longstanding friendship. But in summary, they hurled invectives and vitriol at me, accused me of being jealous of their career/financial success, slammed me as being politically biased and declared they would be defriending me on Facebook and didn't care if we ever spoke again.

Then Anna Bligh drove out of the Government House gates, and I had to go and be a journalist. A biased one, apparently.

What was the cause of this outburst from my friend? What had I done?

Well, friends, I had done what I realise now was Mistake 101 of social media - I got into a political discussion on Facebook.

My friend had updated their status complaining about the private health insurance means test legislation passing through the federal lower house. A few people had weighed in agreeing that hospital waiting lists would blow out under this move. I left a message saying while I accepted that point, it did strike me as problematic that people earning less than the $83, 000 cut-off had to subsidise healthcare for those earning much more. I said that a public health system should cater for anyone who wants to access it, even the very rich. But I added that money gives those people a choice that others (who may work hard also, but just be in professions that earn less) don't have.

At least, that is what I can recall stating. I can no longer access my actual comments because my friend made good on their threat and defriended me.

How do you write the emoticon "sadface" into a blog?

Last week, hours travelling on the campaign bus between destinations afforded me a lot of time to think about what I'd written, and how I'd managed to so badly offend my friend.

To be labelled politically biased upset me greatly. I work very hard to ensure all of my reporting is as objective as possible. I have no party affiliation; and have friends and acquaintances with views across the political spectrum. My father, for instance, would have no problem with me telling you that he is a great admirer of the work of John Winston Howard.


I get envious of other people's money sometimes, but I'm generally OK with what I've got. I've had a stupidly fortunate life. I know ultimately I've chosen to be in the profession I'm in, even if I could have used my brain and education to get into a more lucrative one.

I've always tried to put truth at the centre of everything - but if I can say one thing about growing older and do more journalism-ing, is that there really is no one particular "truth". Unless it's evidence-based, peer-reviewed, scientific fact - it's often not much more than opinion. 


I've always admired my friend's drive and success, and I've never resented them for it. But it seems what I thought was a relatively throwaway remark about the nature of healthcare, was taken as a very personal attack on their life choices and philosophies.

Truth, or opinion? Talk about a political divide.

My friend has yet to respond to any of the messages I have left asking to talk. I hope that they do. I don't think petty politics is worth losing a grand friendship. But maybe that's not my choice anymore.

Am I the only one to experience something like this? Was it my fault - for expressing a view, or for expressing it specifically on Facebook? Can you ever be friends despite your politics? And if you can - how?


  1. I think your point was entirely sensible and your friend obviously has an issue with having money if making a statement about poor people not paying for the rich to take out private health insurance. But to then go into the territory of "Nat is jealous" and then "Nat's opinion makes her work as a journalist biased" is what wonk/tragics like to call "the unhinging".

    I don't think you've done anything wrong and I hope that your life is better without such horrible people in it (some friend they are if that's how they're going to behave).

    1. Should read:

      "I think your point was entirely sensible and your friend obviously has an issue with having money if you making a statement about poor people not paying for the rich to take out private health insurance is going to set them off like that".

  2. Sounds like they've had an issue for awhile, and probably that issue is entirely theirs. I've got friends - and ones I treasure though life tends to get in the road - who have polar opposite beliefs to me in regards to spirituality and politics and generally we have a laugh about our differences through taking cheap shots occasionally.

    In the end I care most about their well being, and not so much that they be Atheist, left, right, gay, straight, or scientist weirdo, as long as there's a certain amount of understanding and respect for our differences. I hope that I'm respected for my differences as I respect them for theirs. We're only a product of our experiences. Fundamentally we're all just humans with feelings and hearts.

    The 'stuff' really doesn't matter.

  3. Nat, you were responding as a private citizen on facebook, not as a journalist. The claim you're somehow biased for daring to state a point of view might have been valid if you'd let it affect a news report. Otherwise, as you say, it's an opinion, and last I checked you were entitled to it. I think it's unfortunate that your friend seems to be intolerant of that point of view (which I happen to share but that's not the point).

    At any rate my solution to all of this is to keep avoiding facebook. I might make a sort-of-but-not-entirely reply blog about the politics of remaining without it.

  4. If they are unwilling to meet on common ground ie talk it out, I think it's obvious who has issues. BTW that's not you Nat, Bangar trying to get better at social media.

  5. I lost friends over more trivial matters than politics. Musical genres. I lost a few close friends eleven years ago when I joined a metal band.

    And then I lost friends I'd made within the metal scene because I joined an ambient indie pop band they couldn't mosh to.

    You were accused of being politically biased. My very problem is that I'm NOT musically biased! Musical taste can be as powerful as political beliefs sometimes. But neither should be worth losing friends over.

    I hope you and your friend are able to mend things. Best of luck.

  6. I just typed a big long comment that was lost due to Blogger being retarded...so this may not come out the same way a second time. Also, it echos other comments since left, but here goes anyway.

    It seems odd that your friend, someone who you say is a dear and longtime friend would flip their lid over what I also think seems like a throwaway (but warranted) comment.

    I'd like to suggest that perhaps it's your friend who has had some pent up jealousy and resentment towards you that they've been sitting on for a while. Your comment might have just been enough or enough of a catalyst on that particular day for them to lose it, unfortunately straight into your face. Some people sit on emotions like that for too long and can eventually just pop. It might not even take much for it to happen, as could have been evident here.

    In my eyes, you've done enough in the situation to leave the ball in their court now to make amends and rebuild the bridge. I wouldn't feel too bad about it.

    Plus, I'll still be your friend. You filthy commie.

  7. I won't repeat the entirely sensible advice of the commenters above, but I will say that despite the length or deep feelings of a friendship, sometimes they end. Usually it's no one's fault. And yes, it sucks. But you just have to let them go do their thing, and focus on doing your thing to the best of your ability.

  8. Must admit i do the same!

    Bernadette Young‏@berniethecool
    @girlclumsy I'm loving spotting you on the news each night in the background of shots... It's like Where's Wally.

    Spencer Howson‏@SpencerHowson
    @berniethecool @girlclumsy Young @jackhowson and I do the same!

  9. I certainly can recall in my younger days letting comments slide from girls that I would never agree to and if it was anyone else would have called them on it. However when your a young stupid male you will agree with almost anything if it meant the possibility of sex.

    I don't think being an objective jurno means you can't have opinions, or that you can't express them. Wasn't it Thomas More in 'A man for all seasons' who said "if you force men to deny their heart then soon they will have no hearts".

    So I hope your friend when they have a chance to reconsider and realise that you can discuss and in the end respect a difference of opionion.

    Except with fundamental theists, they're nuts.

  10. I caused a bit of a stir commenting about this on FB too! Except I was annoyed with the argument that people on 83k shouldn't be referred to as wealthy. They are if you ask a radio journo. A psychologist friend got shitty with me, then said she had to go back to wallow in her big bath tub full of money.

    Okay she didn't really say that, but she was thinking it.

  11. Sorry Nat, but you are very wrong.

    Ray Martin is entirely hateable.

  12. Hi Nat, just found this quote and think it is just what you need.
    "Be who you are and say what you feel,
    Because those that matter don't mind,
    And those that mind don't matter."

    Alan M