There’s no other way to put it: Today’s political environment is unforgiving, harsh, and hostile. On one hand, Donald Trump is being equated to the likes of Hitler; on the other, Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist, and hosts of Americans are demanding Hillary Clinton be incarcerated. Lines are being drawn deeper than ever before, and desperate accusations (whether justified or not) are the chosen weapon in the political battlefield.
College campuses, in particular, have come to be known as notoriously liberal places, and college students themselves as infamously egalitarian. They seem to fulfill Winston Churchill’s “If you’re not a liberal at the age of 20, you have no heart” typecast—completely leaving off the second-half of this generally misquoted saying. At Boston College, there seems to be a good mix of conservatives and liberals alike—which is a lot like the real world.
In both places, a stigma has developed surrounding people who lean further to the right of the political spectrum. This perpetuating belief suggests that all conservatives are evil people who want to build a wall along the Mexican border and eradicate all Muslims. However, contrary to popular belief, not all (and not even most) conservatives think in such an extremist way. It is possible, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that conservatives too can be good people.
So, unlike what seems like everyone around you might be saying, it is completely acceptable, and frankly expected, for people to have incompatible political views. Not everyone has to be a liberal, and you’re not automatically a bad person if you aren’t. The diversity of political opinion does not mean that America is doomed, but rather it illustrates that there are many solutions to a given problem—a problem that has no “right” answer, regardless of what either party may say, a problem that can only be solved through mutual respect and cooperation among the two parties.
However, people defend their political opinions so aggressively that conversation and compromise ultimately become obsolete. In his article “I’m a Liberal Professor, and my Liberal Students Terrify Me,” Edward Schlosser (a pseudonym) writes that “it’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas—they refuse to engage them, period.” Schlosser refers to how, when asked about a controversial issue like abortion or immigration, people (and in particular college students) are more prone to disregard any solution that opposes their own views and ignore any conversation about the topic.
Objectively, this is a dangerous mindset to take on; when we close ourselves off to new ideas and actively avoid discomfort, we distance ourselves and society as a whole from progress and positive change. Obstruction of free speech and the homogenizing of the way humans think is supremely hazardous; this notion is alluded to time and time again in literature, and is confirmed throughout history. What’s ironic about this is that the people who often claim to be so open-minded and accepting hardly ever give the time of day to listen to an opposing point of view.
In his book The Righteous Mind, liberal author and psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains just this: the hardest obstacle on the path to political compromise is getting liberals to open their minds on these controversial issues. Haidt describes how, when confronted with political problems, liberals are all too quick to reduce complex issues to simplistic concepts of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Through their behavior, democrats have demonstrated how poorly they comprehend conservative values; a majority of liberals have merely a surface-level understanding of GOP principles, and moreover, “they can’t recognize this failing because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness, and enlightenment.”
Now, Haidt does not place the blame entirely on liberals—conservatives too must pull their weight in this negotiation. The solution to this political stalemate is not to make everyone a liberal; the solution is cooperation from both sides.
So, what’s the bottom line? Mainly, that being a conservative and being a good person are not mutually exclusive. Not every republican is a racist, and not every conservative is a money-obsessed creature driven singularly by greed. Just because a person isn’t super-liberal and isn’t too keen on financing the entire nation’s healthcare does not make them wicked or selfish, it makes them a human with their own opinion (which they are entitled to). When it comes down to it, humans disagree, and the possibility that somebody might have an idea that’s different (or even better) than yours is not the end of the world. What’s more? This diversity in political opinion is a good thing.
Conflicting opinions are fundamentally good for society. Differences in judgment have allowed us to compromise and progress as a population. Armed with an open mind, through the conflicts that arise we are able to examine a number of potential solutions that might not have been considered before, rework each situation relative to circumstances, and develop new ways of solving problems. Simply put: disagreement allows for variety, which in turn fosters cooperation and ultimately leads to progress.