Ever since the US election, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the differences between liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans. It is impossible to describe either group without resorting to stereotypes. I’m so entrenched in my own side of the duality that the words I use for the “other side” come out as negative, even when I try to stay neutral. It is really hard to back out of Us versus Them thinking. I don’t think it’s possible to find common ground if I’m going to use divisive words to describe “those people” who are not like me.
As you know, I am a liberal thinker and voter, so for me, “those people” are conservatives and republicans. I am suddenly aware of the dramatic irony of feeling contempt for a group of people whom I feel are nothing like me, yet criticizing them for being intolerant. You may say, “Yes, but you’re not going around attacking people and depriving them of their rights!” But lately I have been filled with loathing for conservative speech and values, and haven’t held back from saying so within my circles.
I am still trying to find definitions that avoid loaded words. Maybe there is no such thing. Conservative and republican platforms started with a small role for government, decentralized government, local control, low taxes, free markets and privately run services. There is a high level of agreement that adults are responsible for themselves, and their safety net is family, friends, churches and charities. Liberal and democratic platforms started with a larger role for government, more issues decided at the national level, higher taxes, unions and trade agreements and publicly provided social services. There is a high level of agreement that adults are dependent on each other and everyone should chip in to create a safety net for all.
Those are fundamentally different views of how we should live in society! Is it any wonder we don’t get along?
Based on the description above, it might be safe to say that conservative thinkers place a high value on what is near and dear – the family, the community, local businesses and a local way of life. They strive to take care of their own so they don’t need outside help. Liberal thinkers place a high value on ideals – equality, justice, diversity – and rely on tax-paid social services to help even the playing field. Conservatives value continuity and tradition. They seek to preserve their way of life and may resist change. Liberals, on the other hand, welcome changes in society, and want to bring about change no matter how uncomfortable everyone feels during the transition – they feel it’s best in the long run.
Think about the battleground issues over the last century: women working outside the home, women having influence in public life, women limiting the number of children they have, employer maternity leaves, day care, anti-war and anti-military sentiments, firearms safety and gun control, tax-paid services such as old age pensions and health care, global markets and protected markets, big agriculture and local farmsteads, big banking and micro loans, natural remedies and pharmaceutical medicine, regulations versus self-governing, the economy, the environment, immigration, citizenship…to name a few.
Based on whether someone identifies as liberal or conservative, you could guess their take on any of these issues. Will your answer to any of these issues preserve my way of life and leave me alone? Or will it bring about change? Will it cost me more? Will it do a better job? By whose criteria? Will it leave people behind? Is it sustainable?
Right now I am feeling the need to say less and listen more. Especially to folks with a more conservative bent, who don’t really want their world to change, or at least want the changes to move slowly, and with regard to their concerns. The world has changed drastically in the last 50 years, and people do have the ability to adapt to change when they’ve been consulted and given information and shown how it can work; shown how the short-term pain can lead to long-term gain. It’s uncomfortable, but it can and does happen.
Am I saying we should slow down the adoption of human rights, equality, diversity and justice for all? No! Am I saying that words and actions of hate need to be considered on par with messages of hope? No! What I am saying is that when folks with conservative values try to speak in a respectful and moderate way, they are often shouted down and assumed to be “the bad guys.” They need more time, more information and more personal/relatable examples in order to get on board with change. But with the quick opposition of liberals like myself, they get shut down, and the learning curve comes to a halt.
I certainly don’t want to listen to raging rants or stand by when I see bullying and intimidation. There are a million things we can do to interrupt the cycle of hatred and fear. This week, like many other bloggers, I feel the need to make it personal and local. I want to listen to ideas I’m uncomfortable with, backed up with feelings and facts and personal stories. I want to say, “I understand how you feel, but…” What if? Have you thought of this? What if everyone did the same thing? Is there another way?
In these divisive times, there’s one thing we all have in common: we take care of our loved ones and want the best for them. Traditional folks may want their family and friends to continue the same way of life because it has worked for them and it’s the best blueprint for the future. Modern folks see gaps in the old ways and may work for societal change because it’s the best path forward. Both would say they value family, education, hard work and respect. People from both groups prefer to spend their time with others who are like themselves. Conservatives don’t want to be open-minded and tolerant if that means having to accept or tolerate values they oppose. Liberals are open-minded and tolerant of values they pick and choose – but not conservative values.
I don’t see a way out except with communication – moderated, thoughtful, yet passionate communication. And kindness.
Teaching Tolerance has a pocket card that sums it up. It was intended for schools and other places where there is some assurance of safety and support. They use the word upstander for someone who stands up for their beliefs and who is not just a bystander in the face of injustice.
INTERRUPT – Speak out against biased remarks
QUESTION – Ask simple questions to find out why the speaker made the remark
EDUCATE – Why is it offensive? Could the thought be phrased in a more respectful way?
ECHO – Thank people who speak up, and carry their actions forward
I hope I can use this technique, no matter whether someone says, “Liberals are letting the country go down the tubes” or “All Trump supporters are bigots.”
But even more, I hope I can have one-to-one conversations that will help me understand how real, complex people tick. People unlike me. I may not win over converts to my “lifestyle” nor will they pull me to the “other side”. But maybe we can decide not to go down the tubes together.