I have a friend who gets fired up about certain causes and issues, and tends to take it personally if someone takes an opposing side. I’ve learned to couch my arguments with this friend by saying, “Now I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but …” and I make my point. I do this so as not to cause a rift in our friendship. Lately this friend has been hung up on one of the issues that generates press in the local paper, and has asked me to go public by showing my support for a cause I’ve been deferentially supportive of, but in truth don’t actually support. Should I agree to support my friend even though I don’t necessarily support my friend’s cause?
Cause for Concern
I’m going to cut right to the chase here: Do you actually live on Martha’s Vineyard? Islanders don’t play devil’s advocate when it comes to causes we care about. We either practice diligent WASPy avoidance, or else we dive in to a no-holds-barred philosophical wrestling match.
When my dad and I used to disagree about town politics (our views were 50 percent identical and 50 percent opposite), we would get so fierce that my mother would sometimes leave the room in amused distress. Arguing with Dad about local issues brought out a side of me most people have never seen. If I had ever gone the “I’m just playing devil’s advocate here” route, I’m pretty sure he would have responded to my devil’s advocacy exactly as if it were my own position (and guess what? He’d be right!). People who are very passionate about and committed to their beliefs get hot under the collar in response to the FACT of an opposing position, regardless of the SOURCE of the opposing position.
This leads me to ask: Is it possible that you are underestimating your friend? Might your friend see right through you? Do they perhaps know that the “devil’s advocate” claim is BS, know that you disagree with them but are too cowardly to admit it … and are still content to be your friend? Maybe you’re not giving them enough credit. Maybe they would like you to just own up to your position so that you can have a gloves-off debate of principles. It’s March on Martha’s Vineyard! What else is there to do?
Of course I could easily be wrong about this: Your friend might indeed take it personally if someone disagrees with them about a nonpersonal matter. What a disagreeable trait in a friend!
You seem to have to put yourself in some moral discomfort for the sake of avoiding a “rift” in the friendship — what does your friend do for the sake of avoiding a “rift” in the friendship? Are you the only one walking on eggshells? If so, we might need to move this conversation over to Charles Silberstein’s column about mental health, because that sounds like a classic codependent relationship issue.
Assuming your situation isn’t that dire, let’s limit ourselves to your specific question: Should you support your friend even if you “don’t necessarily” support your friend’s cause?
Off-Island the answer would simply be, “No, do not ever pretend to support something you don’t support, duh,” but we’re not off-Island. Allowances must be made for insularity. So really, it depends on what “don’t necessarily” means here. Does it mean your friend has a cause that means a lot to them, but which you are completely indifferent to? Or does it mean that your friend has a cause you actually disagree with?
In either case, start by being honest with them. Ha! What a concept, amirite? But seriously. Be honest with them.
If you’re simply indifferent to a cause, then educate yourself out of your indifference, and act according to your beliefs. If you’re against a cause, do not betray your own principles to placate a friend who probably would not return the favor. If you’re genuinely conflicted about what position to take, or believe that a wait-and-see approach is wisest, just say so and ask your friend to give you room. If your disagreeing with them spurs them to spirited debate with you, that’s a friendship. If it leads to them sulking bitterly at you, not so much.
That’s my take.
Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.