Teams, Logos and Labels

LIBERAL vs. CONSERVATIVE

“Definition vs. Self-identification”

The polarization is undeniable. The lines are drawn – directly down what used to be the middle of our nation’s politics. The strict adherence to one side or the other routinely grinds our government to a halt.

And yet, somehow, the teams on each side have lost sight of the origins of their ideology. Ask someone why they are liberal or conservative and they’ll answer by listing a party platform or a particular subset of the Republican/Democratic philosophy. Almost no one will define the actual labels.

There has to be a reason those two words have been slapped on opposing ideologies. Perhaps it’s time we came to terms with the meaning of the terms “liberal” and “conservative.”

LIB∙ER∙AL (adj):

(a)    “marked by generosity”

(b)   “broad-minded; especially: not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy”

CON∙SER∙VA∙TIVE (adj):

(a)    “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions”

(b)   “marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners”

Both date back to the 14th century, so they’ve been with human society for quite some time. They have translated to different political parties, different sides of the aisle, etc. depending on the sovereign nation using them, but the philosophies have been with us for 700 years.

Here, I’m less interested in how the particular differences between the two mindsets play out on the political field or why people gravitate to the left or the right.

 **For a thorough, scientific investigation written in readable prose for the average citizen, Chris Mooney has it covered in his new book, “The Republican Brain” which he discusses on the Point of Inquiry podcast.

I’m more concerned with the terminology and what it means to identify as one or the other. Do people consider what the actual words mean before they emblazon them on profiles, bumper stickers and patriotic paraphernalia? Has most of the American citizenry contemplated the philosophies associated with the ideology they profess? Or do they root for their side like sports fans who never learn their team’s players, ignoring the games before the All Star Break?

Our politics has become a sporting event. We don’t participate—not really. Oh sure, we buy the jersey and the hat and go to a game here and there. But we aren’t in the game. None of us would claim to be players on the field; we’re fans. We get frustrated with our team now and then. We shout for changes at the top of the organization when we don’t see the desired results. We cheer when our players win.

But where are we sitting as we shout? We’re rooting from our couches or the stands, beer likely in hand. Maybe we’re gathered together with like-minded friends at our favorite bar—sound cranked, décor done in the proper colors as we yell in unison for every base hit, every missed call and every strike out.

The sideline position doesn’t make that our team no matter how much we use first person pronouns to discuss colleges we never went to and sports for which we’ve never worn the uniform.

Politics should be different. This is our country. The government – no matter how fluctuating, inefficient or frustrating – is ours. “We the People…” Even if you aren’t marching in the street, donating to a party or writing letters to your representatives, by voting in November you’re acknowledging that you’re part of your team.

So before proclaiming yourself a liberal or conservative, consider the definitions. Which best describes you?

Liberals gravitate toward social justice as a natural extension of the “generosity” component. They tend to be unconcerned with people’s race, gender, sexual orientation, income and background when judging their value; they are “broad minded.” And they do not accept the status quo simply because it always has been or because someone in power once deemed it so – they are “not bound by orthodoxy.”

Conservatives prefer to maintain the current hierarchy and adhere to the rules they’ve known throughout their lives and within their states, churches and families. They are “disposed to maintaining existing conditions/institutions.” They are not interested in change or in redefining societal structures; they “relate to traditional norms.”

These two natural opposites should result in a predictable push on the “left” and pull on the “right.” A balance and slow march toward progress has been the result historically. Things change, but not too quickly for adjustments to be made, regulations to be considered and outcomes to be planned for.

Balance, however, cannot be maintained when the teams do not know who they are or what they’re rooting for. Perhaps this election season as we head into the playoffs, we can take a few minutes to ask ourselves what we believe and, therefore, what we want. Before mindlessly tossing on a jersey for the team we’ve always identified with, we should consider what the logo on the front stands for.

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Categories: Finding My Voice

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4 replies

  1. Reading the book!

  2. I tried to comment but don’t know if it posted…here I got again…This is very well written. Reading, as I mentioned, is not high on my list of priorities, but this hooked me. Nice job!

    • Thank you so much! Everyone has so many demands on their time; the idea was to give people something that didn’t take long to get through, but might keep them thinking for a while here and there. If I can elicit a “huh…” or a “hmmm…” — that’s the goal.

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