Have you ever watched small children argue over something we consider trivial? As a non-parent, casual observer, the argument I see most frequently is over a material possession. Child A has no interest in The Thing. But then Child B starts playing with The Thing. Suddenly, in the mind of Child A, The Thing has become the most valuable Thing in the world and must be played with NOW! Argument ensues. And it’s a ridiculous argument with no logic or reason at its core but both children instantly become so invested in The Thing that neither is willing to negotiate. Thankfully, there are usually adults close at hand to step in and stop the chaos.
There are any number of solutions to the problem of The Thing. The best offer some kind of compromise that allows both children to have access to The Thing for a set amount of time. But because children are, well, children, it takes an adult to make them see the answer that should be so clear.
Increasingly, the arguments between Left and Right, liberal and conservative, remind me of children battling over The Thing. While predominantly an American phenomenon, the sharp divide between Left and Right is spreading and it worries me.
For the sake of transparency, I will let you know that I put myself on the left side of the political spectrum. Not surprising given that I am an atheist, feminist who grew up on the west coast of British Columbia in a strong union (see also: NDP) family. Ironically, it’s the last part of that sentence, specifically my late, union-loving father, that helps me understand and identify with the Right.
I say ironically because so many of the statements I hear from the vocal Right revolve around salt-of-the-earth, hard working, traditional family people and that was my dad–who never voted for a Right wing politician in his life–to a T.
In my dad’s mind, the Left was all about helping the common person, the little guy and even the middle class, whereas the Right was all about helping the rich and powerful. It was as simple as that to him.
Perception is tricky business.
I confessed that I put myself on the Left and when I speak out on issues it’s usually with a Leftward slant, but…stop. Conservatives, put away all your quickly-forming perceptions of me, take a deep breath, and listen to the rest of my story.
I’ve been poor but I’ve also been wealthy—not 1% wealthy but wealthy enough to feel annoyed when the government took a huge chunk of my hard earned dough. I’ve been a union member and an employee, but I’ve also been a business owner and an entrepreneur and have dealt with all the red tape and associated headaches that come with those titles. I’m a tree and sea hugger but I sure do love my internal combustion engines, especially in the form of dirt bikes, boats and jetskis. I support social safety nets and believe firmly in looking after every member of our society but I’m also a hard worker and proud of the fact that only once in my life I had to rely (briefly) on unemployment insurance, (which I pay into anyway, so it’s not as if I was “leeching off the government”). I’m white, heterosexual and married. Oh, and I eat meat, some of which I catch myself.
If you’re a conservative, I’m willing to bet you can see some of yourself, your experiences and your beliefs in the paragraph above. Am I feeling a little more familiar to you? A little more safe?
Yes, there are issues on which we will disagree, but like children with The Thing, there is usually a compromise even if we’re too blind or angry or stubborn to see it.
Conservatives, hold on a moment while I talk to my fellow liberals.
All right, folks on the left, let’s talk about the Right. Media, particularly social media, has shown us some pretty wacky, extreme and even frightening representations of conservatives. Enough to trigger my fear response, even though I consider myself pretty level-headed. But I have a lot of friends, even some extended family, who count themselves as conservatives. Let me tell you about them.
Across the board, they are friendly, kind and generous people. They volunteer their time, skills and money to help the less fortunate. They care about the environment and often go to great lengths to protect it. They are foster parents. They are artists. They fall on all points of the financial spectrum. They are tolerant. They love their families, friends and community. They care about animal welfare. They feel the same way about the crazy extreme Right as we feel about the crazy extreme Left.
Okay, come on back liberals.
Left, Right, let me tell you something, you both scare me sometimes. You both isolate me. Right, I don’t want your Christianity setting rules for me. And Left, I don’t want to worry that everything I say or write must eventually come with a list of trigger warnings. Right, just because some people abuse social programs doesn’t mean those programs aren’t beneficial to society. Left, not everyone is a special snowflake who needs caring for; some people are just lazy whiners who really do need a kick in the butt.
And so on.
Neither side is perfect; I would not be happy in either of their ideas of Utopia. And neither side is “evil”; some people, on both sides, have extreme beliefs and philosophies, that is all.
If we want a productive and healthy society, we need to let go of The Thing long enough to search for compromise. At the very least, we need to acknowledge that we can argue about The Thing and still love each other. The worst thing we can do–and what I see happening too often–is replace people with “sides”. We need to remember that behind Left, Right, liberal and conservative is a lot of flesh and blood.
There are no adults waiting to step in and solve our problems. The adults are us.