Everyone loves being a part of a team. These teams manifest themselves in many shapes and sizes: sports, towns, states, countries, even religious sectors, like churches and denominations. It’s in our nature, this longing for allies and enemies, and when it comes to politics, the divide between Democrats and Republicans is deeper than ever.
In his 2008 TED Talk, psychologist Jonathan Haidt digs up the moral roots beneath liberals and conservatives, saying, “People that crave novelty, diversity, new ideas and experiences—they tend to be liberals. Conservatives, on the other hand, crave things that are safe and dependable.”
According to Haidt, this seemingly small variable is the root of all the differences between the two political parties in America. That’s it. Nothing more. From this single variance, we eventually get to opinions on abortions and border walls. At our most basic level, then, politics are just a matter of taste.
Haidt goes on to explain that our tastes have less to do with our own choosing than we’d like to think. It has much more to do with where you were born, your parents’ political views, and the views of the culture around you.
As an example, I’ll share my good friend and Kentucky author Alex Taylor’s story. He sent me an email recently, recounting his first time away from home:
“When I got to graduate school, I was surrounded by very liberal people. I was so green. I had no idea that lesbians really existed. I thought it was all made up. Likewise, these liberals seemed to be unaware that yes, people like me do exist. Rednecks. Hillbillies. Country boys. And we have our loves and our humanity and our principles. But I also noticed that the liberals I met had absolutely disastrous personal lives. They didn’t have much work ethic. I thought, if that’s liberalism, I don’t want any part of it. Obviously, not all liberals are like that. But it made an impression on me.”
I share my friend’s account to highlight how starkly the lines are often drawn. We can’t help it. Everywhere we go, it’s “us” versus “them.”
According to Haidt, such division is a necessary evil. It keeps things balanced. It takes both parties, tugging at one another, balancing each other out, in order to have a stable republic, one that moves forward (liberals), but also is wary enough not to make some sort of fatal misstep (conservatives).
Football teams are a good example of this. On every team I ever played for or coached, there were different opinions on how the game should be played, conservatives and liberals of the gridiron.
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll remember Eric “Old Bull” Hart. Bull was extremely conservative when it came to his football philosophies. And then there was me — never wanting to punt, running a frenzied, up-tempo offense, and trying to score as many points as possible. Eventually, we found a balance somewhere in the middle, and our team thrived because of it.
The balance we found was much like yin and yang, the black and white circle with the two dots and the curvy line. In Eastern philosophy, yin and yang is used to describe how opposite or contrary forces can actually be harmonizing, how they can balance each other out as they interrelate in the greater world.
The same is true for our country. The same is true for Alex Taylor, who went off to that liberal college and encountered a new way of life. His experience reminds me of my favorite Proverb: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
We’re all different, but we’re all the same. Are you capable of coming to terms with that? If you are, put that thought process into practice. The next time you encounter someone from the other side of the political spectrum, work hard to see them as a counterweight to your viewpoint, a human being, a stone on which to keep our country sharp.
Reader’s “Best” Years:
“The fall of 2016 was the best. We witnessed 18 young senior men, including our son Daniel, lead Cyclone Football to heights never before seen. They topped it off by beating our biggest rival Greenwood for a state title. The bond the parents and I formed will never be forgotten!”
—Chris Cloud, Russellville
“They’re all the best. 18 was my best year for boot camp. 20 was my best year for war. 21 was my best year to figure out what coming back home meant. 28 was my best year to have my first son. 32 was my best year to have my second. 36 is now my best year, and while I’m still figuring out what it means to be a man, I’m certain that it involves making every year, every day my best.”
—Lance Fetters, Clarksville
“Simple choice, really: Get busy living or get busy dying.”
—Brant Matros, Arkadelphia
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