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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Friendship across the political spectrum


Amidst billowing winds, sub-zero temperatures and blankets of snow, it can be difficult to remind ourselves of the astonishing promise and opportunity that four years of college presents us. Under these harsh conditions of snowing 10(!) consecutive days with the added cloak of the coronavirus, I am increasingly seeing students with their heads down — both literally and figuratively. This is a dangerous path to go down, and one I avidly encourage students to avoid.

Notre Dame takes great pride in being an esteemed academic institution. Classes are difficult, time-consuming and thought-provoking. Papers are long, exams are challenging and finals are draining and tedious. The result, more often than not, is a cultivated mind that is up to us, the students, to use for the greater good in our society and individual communities. But that’s not why we chose to come to Notre Dame. There are other strong, warmer academic institutions throughout the world (remind me again why we hate the U) that we could have attended. Why we chose Notre Dame, or at least why I hope students chose Notre Dame, is the emphasis on the heart and soul in communion with the mind — so we may cultivate our whole selves in the pursuit of changing the world for good. A central part of that growth is the development of relationships with those around us, particularly those with different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs than our own. In other words, to get the most out of time at Notre Dame, we as students need to spend as much time enriching our personal interactions with each other as we do in the classroom and library. The most important lessons that I will take away from college were not found in Hes or a lecture hall; they are derived from late-night conversations and debate inside the dorms.

I live in a politically divided off-campus house. My five roommates generally range from far-right to moderate on the political spectrum as I stand alone on the progressive left. What we lack in political unity we make up for in boisterous confidence in our beliefs, and while we do at times quarrel (mostly about dishes and the trash), we always find a way to live and interact with one another. My relationships with conservative students extend beyond that of my house; about half of my closest friends voted for Donald Trump. Like many friend groups in college, we often find ourselves in heated debates. The most recent of those was a screaming match about what constitutes a sandwich (if you claim an ice cream sandwich or a McGriddle don’t count as sandwiches, you need to reevaluate your life — and yes, I’m looking directly at you, Joseph and Chris) in which I actively lost IQ points. At other times, though, the debates venture into more important topics: Issues like gun control, healthcare and the Black Lives Matter movement have driven us to delve into the core of our moral and ethical beliefs. It is in these conversations where I have learned and grown the most.

Being friends with many Republicans and living with even more, I often get asked questions like “why” or “how do I do it.”  The truthful answer is it’s not always easy. I can get angry and frustrated, and at times I truly struggle to comprehend some of the opinions and beliefs of my friends — just as they struggle to comprehend mine. It is in moments like these, however, that I turn to my faith and the concepts of humility and love. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In other words, accept the possibility that you may be wrong or that there may be a different way to view the issue. Further, and more importantly, don’t focus your effort on winning the argument, but rather focus on broadening your own understanding. As students at Notre Dame we are peers, and as humans we are brothers and sisters in Christ. I encourage us to be wary of not thinking of ourselves so highly that we cannot learn from another person.

The second concept of faith that I remind myself of is love. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor, and that includes those with whom we disagree. As long as love and respect are displayed by both parties, friends with different political views can coexist.

Relationships are integral parts of our learning experience at college. Each one of us should strive to deepen our understanding of the world, society and ourselves through social interactions with our peers, even when it takes us out of our comfort zone. Additionally, friendships are not contingent on political affiliation; they rest on love and respect. If we display humility and love towards our friends, and they share the same with us, a healthy relationship is possible.

I would not change my friends or my roommates for anything. I’ve heard the toughest steel is that which is forged in the hottest fire and beaten with the strongest metal. The conservative friends I have made — the very ones that politically frustrate, confuse and anger me — will be my friends for the rest of my life. They have celebrated with me at my highest, supported me at my lowest and fought for me always. Friendship cannot be warranted based on political parties; it is warranted in love, and we are all better for it.

Clark Bowden is a senior political science major. When he's not sleeping through his alarm or reminding people that he studied abroad, he can be found in heated political debates or watching the Washington Nationals play baseball. He can be reached at or @BowdenClark on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.