Some Thoughts on Liberalism and Conservatism, on Father

My Facebook feed is filled with Father’s Day wishes, but also with thoughts about gun control and immigration and terror and religion and walls and big-money politics and race and what it would take to Make America Great, and about Those Liberals and Those Conservatives.

“Conservative,” taken literally, means “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation.” “Liberal,” taken literally, means “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.”

Anyone who has seen me in the routines of my daily life knows that in that respect, I am as conservative (small c) as they come. I am the stereotypical caricature of a Creature Of Habit. I eat the same breakfast every day, and usually the same dinner and lunch. I shop at the same stores, and buy the same groceries. I take great comfort in the familiar. Notwithstanding my record of circumnavigating the system (and my many, many moving violations and traffic school terms) I am a passionate lover of rules and boundaries and standards and constraints. I am a homebody, and venturing to unfamiliar places – however seemingly open and inviting – can sometimes feel to me like negotiating the alleyways of Gaza. I have been telling the same jokes for fifty years, and I heard most of them from my grandfather. I have yet to perform a karaoke rendition of a song that is less than 30 years old. Although a staunch atheist, I am a sucker for liturgical music, for a strictly Orthodox Passover seder, and for Christmas carols. I am very aware of the reasons for this personal conservatism and for my desperate need for the safety it affords me, and while they are certainly not Facebook material, they are very real.

At the same time – particularly in recent years – I try to be acutely aware of the areas in which my personal conservatism encroaches on the freedoms of others, infringes their boundaries, causes them distress or oppression or pain. And in those areas, I strive diligently to change my behaviors, reactions, thought patterns and speech patterns, and to open myself to new perspectives. Liberalism in my personal life – the willingness to adopt new behaviors and opinions and discard traditional values – can be acutely challenging. But I persevere in this commitment to personal change and acceptance as best I can. To do less would be cruel to all of the loving, compassionate, supportive people in my life.

I understand the need to cling to one’s values, whether rooted in the Bible, the constitution, or our childhood traditions. And yet, I remind myself daily that examining my own behaviors and convictions – listening and accommodating others – does not mean that someone will take my morning yogurt away or force me to dress differently or perform the Black Eyed Peas. I can change my ways when they are critically in need of change, and still remain safe. I can let go of a harmful practice or belief and my fortress of personal conservatism will not crumble.

In the same way, examining our ideological convictions – listening and accommodating the concerns of others – does not mean that someone will take our guns away, or abolish the English language, or shutter our churches, or trivialize our marriages and families, or bring jihadis to our doorstep. Let us hold on to our values, but let us also be constantly aware of when it is critical to open our hearts and minds to change. Let us strive to be kind, compassionate and respectful of those whose backgrounds and viewpoints are different from our own. And when we disagree, let us do so without resorting to insult, deliberate offense, and humiliation.

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