I have been puzzling over the stark and seemingly insurmountable political differences that divide our nation these days, and I see some cause for hope—as faint as it might sometimes seem—in the current crop of more moderate candidates running for office across our nation today. Perhaps we are finally growing weary of shouts and insults as a proxy for policy discussions. Accusing those with different views than your own of all manner of moral and intellectual failings—in the most caustic terms possible—tends to excite the excitable, but it also forestalls any opportunity for the sometimes inelegant compromises that keep the wheels of our nation going round.
There are obvious differences between the policies of our two major political parties. The clashes between the capitalists and socialists, those who favor open borders and those who do not, and the advocates of Big Government vs. fewer rules and regulations are both never ending and necessary. The debates between diametrically opposite points of view sparks the synthesis that provides the solutions that we need to solve our problems.
However, our focus upon surface differences often ignores the morals, values, and judgments that inform our individual opinions. Characterizing others as either “good” or “bad” based solely on the degree to which they agree or disagree with us neatly avoids the messy and occasionally maddening business of discussing the ethical, religious, and personal values that inform our decision making on a range of matters. This failing enables the facile insults that now are the most prominent feature of our daily political and social discourse. The shocking ease with which we demonize those whose ideas differ from our own often seems more like the rude and immature chatter in a middle school lunchroom that a discussion between reasonable adults.
Although we are often far from agreement on many issues, perhaps we also sometimes fail to understand how our differing priorities both divide us—and also have the potential to bring us together. Think of a great many hot-button topics, and you will find the debate typically falls along familiar lines: Liberals will focus more on “rights”, and conservatives will be more preoccupied with “responsibilities”.
However, rights and responsibilities are simply two sides of the same coin because every right comes with an equal responsibility to use that right wisely and reasonably. When we recognize this fact, we can better attempt to search for common ground regarding a variety of issues—and hopefully engage in a dialogue that will lead to less rage and more actual discussion. Whether we are talking about issues as varied as law enforcement, housing, immigration, healthcare, education, military spending, or pension security, we can possibly have more polite and productive conversations that can lead to policy proposals that will solve problems rather than prompt yet more discord—if we remember the linkages between our rights and responsibilities.
There is also one further connection between rights and responsibilities than warrants our attention. We have the right to disagree with others because our own values, priorities, and judgments lead us to different conclusions; however, we also have a responsibility to respect opinions and ideas that are different from our own. We may believe what we do with all our heart and soul, but there is a very good chance that someone believes otherwise. Their opposing ideas are not a signal that they are evil or deluded—or a ready target for our anger. We are instead face to face with an immutable fact of life: Opinions will always vary.
We are welcome to advocate and attempt to swing others to our viewpoint through reasoned discussion and debate if both parties agree to engage, but we must resist the human urge to heedlessly denigrate—or ruthlessly attack. We live in a big nation within a far larger world, and sometimes we are going to need to live by rules that conflict with our own because we assume certain responsibilities as members of a broader society. We have the right to dissent, to support political candidates whose ideas align with our own—or even run for office ourselves. However, we must always be keenly away of our responsibilities to others—and be aware that there is no “right” to be selfish, self-centered, or sneering. This might be a tremendous disappointment to those who enjoy attacking others, but perhaps these are precisely the sort of individuals who are deserving of far less of our support and attention in the future.