O Internet, in all the glory of your collective consciousness, I’m in desperate need of an arbiter.

What do you do when you respectfully disagree with someone? Is it enough to admit a difference of opinion, or must you feign agreement on some level to avoid being judgmental?

Questions with broad strokes, I know.

I had such a disagreement a million years ago. More like two years, really. But it still weights heavily on my heart, in part because I was accused of being judgmental. And, quite honestly, that’s not one of the qualifications I had planned to add to my personal resume.

Pretend, if you will, my friend and I are shopping, when she spies a fur coat she can’t pass up. She knows I’m an animal rights activist, just shy of dumping red paint on unsuspecting passers by, but she wants my opinion. I rather unenthusiastically agree it’s lovely — that’s about all I can muster. And after she prods me, I admit I add that she shouldn’t depend on a coat to make her happy. Still, she wants my support. She’s hurt, and says I’m being judgmental. Why can’t I just act happy?

She’s my friend — and her purchase won’t change that — but am I obligated to push aside my opinions for her sake? Is my difference in opinion truly the same as passing judgment?

And am I right to be hurt that she’d want me to fake how I feel?

This was essentially the argument, just not about shopping and fur (for the record, I can claim to be a vegetarian, but not an animal activist). Now two years later, similar circumstances have unfolded, and I’m sitting here, disagreeing, and feeling defensive.

Would someone who makes the rules please stand up and advise me? Am I a miserable human being, or can people maintain their opinions and disagree without being offensive?

Sheesh: defensive, offensive. It’s like I’ve “gone pro” in law or philosophy (or, um, soap operas), and I’m so not athletic. Sigh.