I ended up in an unusual discussion with a friend of mine today. She was commenting on the riots at Berkeley and her feeling that the riots happened because “the left” is unwilling to hear dissenting opinions. I had to disagree, partly because I am a liberal and so technically part of the ‘left’ and I don’t really have a problem with dissenting opinions as long as the other person is able to explain their opinion to me logically. The other reason I disagreed with my friend is because I don’t really believe you can categorize a group that is so large and diverse with just two words.
Is there actually such a thing? If there is, surely there must be “the right” as well. But can we so easily be divided into two camps? Are we really so simple and so binary in our opinions?
If we are going to be honest with each other, no. It isn’t possible to simplify our politics into two separate groups labeled ‘left’ and ‘right’ and then fully describe each group to clarify their positions. The idea that we are so easily divided and defined is a fallacy that many politicians and journalists like to use when they make statements; it’s a great way of polarizing the issues and labeling your opposition as ‘other’ and incorrect in their thinking.
Except people aren’t so easily defined.
My parents are conservatives both theologically and politically and yet they are both disgusted with our new President and his latest antics. They are disgusted by Breitbart News and horrified by the taint of racism that hangs over Steve Bannon and several of Trump’s cabinet nominees. My parents have voted republican for as long as I’ve been alive, and their views have grown more conservative as they’ve aged, and yet they fail to meet the criteria of being in the religious right.
Why? Let’s start with the fact that neither of my parents is interested in the “Freedom of Religion” legislation that allows Christians to discriminate against LGBTQ persons on the basis that the LGBTQ lifestyle is counter to their religious beliefs. To quote my mother, “If you find that kind of lifestyle sinful, then don’t live that lifestyle. Other than that, what’s the issue? They are people just like you and me, sinners just like you and me, and God loves them, just like you and me.” Remember, this is my conservative mother who continues to believe that homosexuality is not God’s will and not righteous… and both she and my father believe that to discriminate against any LGBTQ person is to offend God and to commit a sin. So are my parents ‘right’ or ‘left’?
Both? Neither? Somewhere in the middle?
My parents are what I like to call Compassionate Conservatives, a group of people who hold their religious beliefs and morals close to their heart but refuse to use those morals and beliefs to exclude or openly judge the lives of others. They consider such behavior counter to God’s will that they extend the love of Christ to everyone, no matter who that person is or what their choices are. In the same vein, they realize that their life experiences have led them to certain values, morals, and beliefs that other people who did not have those same experiences may not share. In fact, they openly admit that perhaps they would think differently if they had had different life experiences.
And that is the crux of the matter.
It is so easy for us to judge someone else as wrong from our personal vantage point. It’s so easy for white people to throw out the line “All Lives Matter” when we have not ONE idea what it is like to fear racial profiling, to fear the police will shoot you simply because you don’t get on the ground fast enough after a traffic stop; we have no idea what it’s like to wonder if our black life actually matters to our local police or politicians. It’s so easy for men to call women out on using the “woman card” when they have no idea what it is like to be demeaned, mansplained to, sexually harassed, sexually discriminated against, and to be passed over for promotions because management fears that you’ll consider getting pregnant sometime in the distant future, as if your brains and skills are worth less because they come with a uterus as standard equipment. It’s so easy for financially comfortable people to give that dirty look to the person who pulls out their EBT (food stamp) card, yet they have no idea what it is like to live in a two income family and still not have enough money to pay for food and electricity if you also pay for rent and transportation, or for your child’s schooling and medical needs…or to be a single parent trying to figure out how to work and pay for child care and still have enough to cover daycare so that you actually can get a job. Don’t even get me started on white privilege and the number of times I’ve had to explain that white men in sports cars don’t get pulled over on the assumption that a white man must have stolen a car that nice (which happens to young men who are black or Latino all the time.)
My point is this: YOU ONLY THINK YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR THAT OTHER GUY OVER THERE.
We only think we know what it’s like to be that other person, to live their life, to wake up in their skin, to face their daily challenges, to have to see the future through the eyes of their past, and to live with the things they fear.
And because we don’t know what it’s like to live their life, maybe we should try asking a few questions before we start judging them.
To give one example: if we wonder why the people of Ferguson rioted in the streets, maybe we ought to listen to them tell their stories of bad action by the police. Maybe we should ask them what it’s like not being able to trust the local police to treat them fairly and with justice, to fear that instead they will be unjustly arrested and perhaps even attacked by the police. Maybe we should try to imagine living in a city where you don’t know who to fear more: the criminals or the police. Maybe we should try to imagine being arrested by policemen that we believe will do everything in their power to unjustly convict us. Still wondering why the young men in Ferguson act in confrontational ways towards the police? No, me neither. No. Actually, their reaction kind of makes sense in light of the reality they live in.
When I was a young girl I read Corrie Ten Boom’s memoir, telling the story of her resistance to the Nazi’s and subsequent arrest for hiding Jews. My father discussed the book with me and told me that true Christians stand in opposition to unjust authorities, even if it means that we will be arrested and punished. My parents taught me that morality is greater than the law because God Himself declares what morality is…and the highest moral is love for all God’s people. To stand against an unjust authority is to act in imitation of Jesus Christ. If I lived in Ferguson…I’d be resisting the local police for the sake of justice for my neighbor.
That brings me back to Compassionate Conservatives.
I only call them that because I’m liberal and I think we are a compassionate bunch, but I’m betting there are some conservatives who would disagree, and they’d probably have really good examples of liberals who have done horrible things in the name of being right (not ‘right’ but right as in correct.)
Maybe this whole deal—religion and politics—would work better if we just started being more compassionate, if we started working more diligently to see how hard the other guy has it before we rush to judgement. Maybe we should assume that people have a good reason for the behaviors and beliefs we think are so strange and unacceptable. Maybe we should even start asking more questions and listening more than we speak.
Holy smoke, I think I’m onto something.
Whether you are ‘right’ or ‘left’ doesn’t really matter, because we’re all just trying to do what is best for our country and our people. Let’s start there: that we all want the same thing—prosperity and success—for ourselves and our country and then see if we can’t find some more common ground to stand on.
Because if we continue with this ‘right’/’left’ thing all we’ll manage to do is play tug of war, and I don’t think that’s how you run a nation unless you are running it into the ground.