I am a staunch supporter of animal rights. Recently, a friend of more than 20 years who has an organic-vegetable farming business told me he's considering adding animals to his farm to increase profitability.
Though I acknowledge his right to live his life any way he likes and accept that he doesn't feel the same way about animals as I do, I am struggling with how to possibly maintain a friendship with someone who is considering - much less actually doing - something so abhorrent to me. He is aware of my values. Your thoughts?
Answer: Unless all of your loved ones are vegetarians, you maintain friendships with people who share the exact same responsibility for animal death as your farmer friend now contemplates. To eat is to kill. The only variable is the number of buffers between animal and plate.
If anything, I could argue you'd be unfair to single out a farmer for shunning while remaining friends with your more typical supermarket carnivores, because you'd be rewarding denial more than punishing meat consumption. Aren't the more honorable carnivores the ones who don't count on others to insulate them from the source of their food, from looking their dinner in the eye?
Anyway, these are just thought-food, as they're more specific answers than we need. Take the nature of the "abhorrent" act away, and what you have is an emotional calculation all of us have to make regularly as imperfect people managing rosters of imperfect friends.
Think about all your friends for a moment. Don't you have the pal who drinks one too many at parties, was born without a fully operational filter, yells at his kids maybe a bit more than being frazzled can excuse? Or the one who always rounds down when it's time to split the check? Who, when she gets rolling, forgets that other people might also want to speak? Who can't keep a secret to save his life?
Whether you're mindful of it, you're routinely making distinctions between a bad choice and a bad person, keeping the bad-choosers on your guest list and weeding the bad people out.
The process is no different here. You decide whether someone can still be a good person while differing with you on this. And then you live the outcome of that decision through your social calendar.
I could argue there's an even easier decision available to you, because the institution of friendship allows it: If you don't want to be friends with your organic-farmer friend anymore, don't be. Enjoying the person's company is the only bar you're required to clear.
I could make this argument, and sometimes do, but I won't in this case because this friend really hasn't done or become anything different; all that has changed is that you're less able to block out what you already know. To cut the tie now would be to declare that your friendships are about comfort for you only - and such one-way generosity doesn't fly if you also count loyalty among the values you hold dear.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.