Among the many opinions about the differences between Conservatives and Liberals, some point to the difference of blaming internal or external causes. “If you were to ask people about the cause of someone’s problems and sufferings (such as homelessness), you will hear two very different explanations.”
If you are a conservative, they point out, you will blame internal causes such as a lack of work ethic, family or religious values, sense of shame, or some other personal weakness.
If you are a liberal, your explanation will likely focus on external causes such as lack of education, oppression, social injustice, or some other influence outside of their control.
The essential conservative point is that interior causes can and MUST be addressed individually. Every person bears an inescapable personal responsibility to work continuously on their internal weaknesses and faults. It is not “success” if someone dragged you to the finish line.
You may seek guidance or it may come unsolicited, but you must walk the walk. A door may be opened to you, but you must enter. Your mother, teacher, minister, psychologist, or warden may point the way, but you have look where they point, set a destination, and keep on faithfully through every obstacle.
Liberals completely accept and internalize this core conservative value. They have individually embraced and fully assimilated the idea that you cause your own suffering and bear your own responsibility to master it. They believe in personal choice and responsibility so fervently that they take it for granted and assume that everybody understands it intuitively.
However, liberals do not believe that a personal failure is the end of the road. They are not comfortable going back to grazing while a predator munches on a weaker or slower neighbor’s carcass. If a member of the herd can be rescued from a hole, if sentries can give an alarm, or if circumstances can be improved, liberals believe that the community should work together to take these actions.
This leaves liberals to work with what remains – external factors. It is not that liberals believe that external factors are the EXCLUSIVE cause of problems and suffering. It is that liberals see external factors as something that they, as a community, have the collective ability and moral responsibility to address. This is called government.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Liberals would rather persuade and rehabilitate you than punish you or whip you into submission.
Liberals believe in people’s responsibility to raise themselves up. In fact, they have faith that most people can, and will, better themselves if their burdens are temporarily lightened. But, they would rather offer opportunities such as education, social equality, or a safety net than leave a suffering neighbor torn and bleeding by the roadside.
If we are to ever find a practical approach to building consistently robust, productive, and satisfying communities, we must come to terms with both internal and external problems.
If we blind ourselves to the stereotypical perspectives of either conservatives or liberals we will fall to the tyranny of incomplete solutions to our many problems; we will constantly engage in endless destructive battles of “either/or” when the reality is found in “and/both.”
©2012, David Satterlee
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