I’ve been wondering why the Republicans this season have had so little shame in attacking and pitting people against each other, divide and conquer wars of words. On every single topic, the speeches have been about “Us” versus “Them” and not a single real mention of issues or how they affect everybody. This isn’t going to be a political rant, though. I’m more interested in thinking about the core of that “debate”, the basic reason it still works on so many, many people.
Humanity has evolved in so many ways. That can’t be argued. I believe, though, that the one segment of our collective growth that stunted and grew warped is our desperate need to divide our fellow humans in ways that allow us to feel superior. Years ago I wrote a column for my web site that compares the labels people give themselves and the real meanings of those words. I’ll just repeat what I said, then.
I was lately browsing through my well-worn copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary and decided to find the two main nouns of our times (or perhaps just my column? Nah!). I looked up “conservative” and “liberal” and was quite surprised with what I discovered.
Allow me to quote the entries, okay?
Conservative is described as “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions” and “one who adheres to traditional methods or views”.
Liberal is described as “marked by generosity and openhandedness” and “broad-minded, tolerant” and “associated with ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and constitutional, political, and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives” and, finally, “one who is open-minded or not strict in observance of orthodox, traditional or established forms or ways”.
Reading these words then got me to thinking about how I seem to be constantly in someone’s verbal cross hairs with the ammunition of choice being that horrid curse, “You are a Liberal”. I, then, tend to defend my position as much more of a moderate one but that only seems to encourage this silliness.
I do believe I’ll stop defending my position in the future since being a liberal, as described above, is certainly more of a compliment than a curse. I think of myself as open-minded and tolerant. I also believe in the ideals of the individual as stated. These are, in fact, my firmest beliefs.
I then wondered who else could be described as a liberal due to their actions. The first to mind were the very people who founded this great nation. If George Washington or Thomas Paine or the Minute Men had defined themselves as conservatives, the country’s anthem would still be “Hail, Britannia”. Rather than risk all, they would have simply stomached the insults and taxes of the King and gone about their business. They didn’t, of course, and they proceeded to act like liberals and completely upset the apple cart of their time.
Another was old Abraham Lincoln, himself. He freed the slaves, an action of an ideal of individual if there ever was one. Of course, the fellow could as easily be described a conservative since he took our country to war to preserve the Union against the separatist intentions of the South. Perhaps he was more of a conundrum than either a conservative or liberal.
The pioneers were truly liberals. They left all of the old institutions behind to bravely begin new lives in an untamed wilderness. They were the quintessential ideal of the individual. Their new way of life demanded new views about their surroundings and how they were to succeed. Holding to the methods of the folks “back east” wouldn’t prove very useful to them.
The current Congress is an excellent example of liberals. They are trying to reverse over thirty years of Welfare, environmental regulations and nearly fifty years of workplace safety rules. They are allowing business unheard of tax breaks and deregulation. This is far from maintaining existing institutions.
All of a sudden, the differences between liberal and conservative might appear slightly confusing. Perhaps there might be another way to view the opinions normally so narrowly defined. Perhaps not defining them at all would improve our communication. Gosh, what a liberal idea!
Maybe, instead of the hate filled rhetoric, the limiting labels and the playground antics of constant name calling we might try simply LISTENING to each other. That might actually allow us to understand one another’s points of view and come to some compromise which will cause solutions to be found. Wouldn’t that be much better than the continuing stream of partisan politics which has solved nothing.
For those of you who have labeled me Liberal, I thank you. Giving an arbitrary name to my beliefs do nothing to change those beliefs, though. I still believe God expects more of us than we are willing to give. Nevertheless, as long as you keep reading and writing it means I’m making a difference to my readers.
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