The Young Adult Section: The value of division

Opinion by Nina M. Chung
Oct. 4, 2011, 12:28 a.m.

The Young Adult Section: The value of divisionI used to assume that beliefs were not optional. In other words, I thought that we fell into our beliefs the way we were born into our families or our bodies — it wasn’t up to us. I remember being asked as a child, “If you’ve never been to China, how do you know it’s there?” Obviously, the answer was, “[Shrug] I dunno.” It didn’t matter, really. The other, less obvious answer was, “Because everyone knows China exists, it’s not possible not to.” Unfortunately, China’s current status makes this harmless example completely ludicrous. But it’s the best illustration I have of how, back in the day, what we believed seemed more a matter of course than a life-altering choice.

Our beliefs aren’t so innocuous anymore. They’re now bigger; they have bigger words and they have bigger scope. We carry them with us but follow them to their consequences. They’re one of the few personal characteristics that divide us with our consent. Even those who don’t regularly self-reflect will face the result of conflicting ideas — a supposedly inexplicable break-up, maybe, or the frustrating distancing of a friend. After the “hello” and “what’s up,” what we choose to believe for ourselves is what determines the potential of our relationships.

I went to lunch with an old friend last week — the terms “old” and “friend” used uncertainly because it’s only been three years in college, and because a past confrontation significantly crippled our friendship. But it was definitely lunch, last week. Actually, I had been thinking about him a lot the past several months, which was itself alarming and exciting. I wondered incessantly if he was still as I remembered, or if I would remember correctly. More prominent, though, were the questions I asked myself: after accepting God as a Christian believer, how did I consider returning to a point in our relationship that we had left off from, in light of his own particular way of life?

I got into his car and was laughing hysterically almost as soon as I did. It was like a homecoming or childhood scent — we were comfortable immediately. In fact, we felt exactly the way we used to. Like with our closest friends, “catching up,” even two years’ worth, wasn’t an obstacle but a natural step in conversation, which rambled on like the most natural thing in the world. I came close to mentally regretting that I had class to return to later.

But along with the bill arrived the real conclusion. We were talking about major realizations, priorities and goals, and our stark differences came into sharp relief. Our words became somber because they were more blatantly significant. In summary, we had each grown a lot, but unimaginably differently. We had chosen almost perfectly opposite views of the world that were completely incompatible with each other. It was such a clear moment, like in the movies. It was really difficult to register exactly where our relationship stood, why it was there and by what it was constricted. Yet I knew it was inevitable, because my faith is…not actually compromising in the least. I knew it was coming even before, but denial is persistent.

People call it “having things in common” or “wanting the same things in life,” easy phrases carved from a truth: we share more of ourselves with those who share our deepest beliefs. There’s a vacuum when we don’t, and both the most successful relationships and divorces around us say so equally. Then again, this applies only for those who choose to stand by their values, and that’s not necessarily everyone. After all, it’s easy to avoid tension when you’re flirting over a cup of coffee. It’s easy to sleep in denial to sustain a one-night stand.

Of course, people connect in these most casual of encounters, and our lives are filled with acquaintances that teach us and laugh with us and flit in and out of our call logs. But past a certain point in every relationship, our beliefs — about who we are, about what we’re here for — steal the spotlight. They are the ultimate bonding material, and thus the most divisive, for any connection worth keeping. And if that is the case, we should make sure that when we hit a wall in a relationship, we are doing so in the name of something that we choose, that is good, that is right. Otherwise, the sacrifice would be completely meaningless.

One connection that would not be meaningless would be an email to Nina at ninamc(at)stanford.edu. It won’t be a leap of faith, she promises!

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