Q: Dear Dr. Hurd, I live in New York City, and while it’s a wonderful place to live, it’s filled with liberals who don’t share my political views. The problem is that while I’m not a liberal, I’m not some Bible-thumping, ignorant racist either. I consider myself rational, but also a passionate advocate of freedom and individual rights. I tend to just give up discussing politics altogether with all these Manhattan liberal types. That’s fine, because I have many other things I’m interested in. But it also makes me uneasy to avoid conflict in this way. Am I acting with integrity by doing this?
A: Actually, I would say that integrity to your values requires that you at least let others know that you do not agree with their liberalism, especially when they might assume (by your silence) that you do. This is powerful, because these (often) arrogant and smug liberals need to know that not everyone who disagrees with them is what they assume—Klansmen, religious nuts, uneducated or illiterate people, abortion clinic bombers, what have you. Liberals are some of the most biased and prejudiced people in our society today. They pride themselves on not being racist, homophobic and the like, but they are as bad as the worst of the black-haters or gay-haters, in their dislike of people who, for lack of a better phrase, are ‘non-left.’ They are quick to condemn others as haters, but I rarely see someone so capable of hatred as the common liberal. So you can see I strongly advocate you saying that you disagree—but that’s all. Perhaps what you fear, especially in a social context with someone whom you otherwise value, is that you’ll say you disagree, and this will understandably, on his or her part, lead to a discussion you don’t want to have with someone you believe you’ll never convince, and you know will never bring you to his or her views. But then, if that’s the case, simply tell them ‘I know you feel passionate about what you think, and believe me, I’m at least as passionate—but we’ll never change each other’s minds. I think it’s best we just talk about something else.’ Others can’t disagree with this, because they won’t want to concede they’ll ever change their mind—but at the same time, you have made a powerful point: You’re aware of their ideas (goodness knows, liberalism is everywhere these days, including every branch of government), and yet you still reject them. That’s integrity enough for me, with someone whose political views are irredeemably wrong, and I believe it will be for you.
The issue here is one of not feeling you have to be a selfless crusader for your views, but still acting with integrity. It’s very important. In summary, the formula goes like this:
1) State you disagree, when you do—always when asked, but especially when someone assumes you agree, and your silence would imply that you do;
2) Once you have expressed disagreement, go no further in debate unless you have reason to believe the person is open to changing his mind (committed liberals are almost never willing to do this, and usually are hostile, patronizing and emotional about their views);
3) Be polite about the refusal by simply saying you know that you will never change each other’s minds, so isn’t it best to discuss the many other things you value together.
With this approach, you can act with integrity without wasting your time. As I said, you have no obligation, to your values, to be a selfless crusader in a hopeless cause. Liberals cannot and will not be convinced. The best stance towards liberals anymore (even with ones who are your friends, if any are) is to simply let them know that not everyone agrees with them. It’s really powerful to ‘come out of the closet’ to a liberal friend by letting them know you’re not liberal. (It doesn’t mean you’re Republican or ‘conservative’ of course, but the point is you’re not liberal, you’re not part of the Establishment). Obviously, for them to be your friend, they like and respect you in some fashion—and it undermines liberal dogma to learn that someone likable and respectable actually doesn’t share their views, politically or philosophically. Just by informing them of that fact, you have done your duty to your views, if you care to put it that way.