Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Difference Between Conservatism and Liberalism

My Dear Reader,

Life is getting political again. Or maybe it always is. Maybe I just manage to ignore it the rest of the time.

Anyway, I have a lot of friends that have opposing political viewpoints. I've lived in California, Utah, and Oregon, so I feel that I can say that with perfect honesty. Some of my friends agree with my political viewpoints. Some of them don't.

And you know what? That's fine. I've always thought that if everyone thinks the same way, then maybe no one is really thinking.

But that stops becoming fine when people get mean. And it seems that mean is all people get these days. I feel like there used to be a time when people could see a member of an opposing political party and still think of that person as good and moral. This time may have been before the advent of cable news. As I grew up with cable news, I'm not sure if this period of political politeness is real or myth.

But whether or not it ever existed, here's the thing: most people want the world to be better. Like, ninety nine percent of us. Most of us want to be happy, and we want our neighbors to be happy, too. We want everyone to be happy, really. Most of us don't like problems, and we'd much prefer it if those problems would go away.

Really, if you don't see people this way, I challenge you to get to know more people. I challenge you to set aside your prejudices and find someone who is very different than you, and honestly try to understand their viewpoint. It's not an easy skill to master, and most of us (like me) only develop this skill when we have to. Like when someone we love decides to step into one of those groups that we don't understand or that we despise.

This happened to me once. Well, more than once, really. But one time it happened in a way that I could not ignore. Someone that I love dearly, who I always thought was on my side, suddenly moved to the other side. And s/he did it in such a dramatic way that it ruined our very precious relationship. So, out of desperation, I decided to try to repair that relationship by any means necessary. And one of those means happened to be sitting down and trying to figure out why s/he did it. And trying to figure out how a person could do that and still be a good person.

And, in this specific case, part of the change was political. I'm a conservative. This person used to be, too, until s/he decided to adopt a staunchly liberal viewpoint. It didn't happen overnight, but it seemed to. It took me by surprise.

So, because of this and because of other aspects in our relationship, I spent a lot of time feeling betrayed. I spent a lot of time really hurt. And I'm not going to say that this was all in my head, or that I was stupid, because the truth is that my feelings were real, and they came from things that were done and said to me. But, after a while, I decided that it was time to heal. Pain gets tiresome after a while, you know? So I did something drastic: I applied the principles of the gospel of Christ and I made a sincere attempt to love my new enemy. And that included trying to understand liberalism.

And you know what I found? Pretty much everything I mentioned above. That people are good and want to world to be better. Even liberals. Because it took a lot of time and effort, but I figured out why liberals are liberal (and why conservatives are conservative). And that changed the way I looked at the people I oppose politically. Here's what I learned.

The difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives want to affect change via private methods (charities, private businesses, private organizations, etc.) and liberals want to affect change via public methods (government programs, etc.).

And what is the change that liberals and conservatives are trying to affect? Often it's the same. I mean, it's the same if you look at the big picture. It's not if you look at specific issues, seeing as conservatives and liberals are often at odds when it comes to almost any specific issue you can find. But when you talk about values, the big difference isn't a what. It's a who. It's who is going to solve this problem.

And when you start to look at it that way, a lot of the stereotypes and all-around nastiness just falls away. Conservatives, like me, aren't cold-hearted tightwads who want everyone else to live in poverty while they raise themselves to excessive wealth. Conservatives simply would prefer it if the task of solving problems was in the hands of the individual citizens, and not in the hands of the government. Liberals, on the other hand, aren't lazy money-grubbers who want to force you to solve all their problems. Liberals simply believe that the government is better equipped to solve the problems in America than individual citizens are.

That's how I look at all of this. That is how I look at all of us. That's how I can find the good in the people who oppose me. But this viewpoint doesn't only help you understand the people in the other camp. This viewpoint is why I can call myself a conservative and still feel free to disagree with the political party that I'm supposed to be a part of. That's how I can disagree with other conservatives.

It's my core understanding of the role of the government that makes me what I am, politically. It's the other parts of me, the religious and experienced parts, that shape my views into specific beliefs and lead me to push for specific methods to achieve specific outcomes. But, you know, I'm not the only person who can say that. Everyone should be able to say that.

It's my hope that one day, we can get to a place where we can respect those who disagree with us. I hope that one day we will look through the eyes of our enemy without a fear that it will demean or debase us. My journey to understand others didn't change my values; it made me strengthen and better understand the values I already had. It actually made me a better person.

And really, we should never be afraid of applying the teachings of Christ into our lives. Not ever.

Regards, best wishes, and the courage to understand,

-Cecily Jane

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