THE BLOG
06/17/2014 05:59 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2014

Respecting Political Differences: As Told By a Liberal Living in a Sea of Conservatives

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My parents are registered Republicans, as are both sets of grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins and just about every person that is related to me. All of my bosses have been politically conservative. A good number of my closest friends are also. Essentially, I often feel as though I am a lone liberal floating in the raging sea of conservative central Pennsylvanians. I don't even have a nice raft to float on, either. It's more like grabbing on to one of those pool noodles. This all being said, I have learned a very important lesson from my conflicting views that many seem to have neglected. This lesson is the ability to disagree and maintain respect.

There's something particularly infuriating about having someone tell you that you are wrong. It's basic human nature. Especially depending upon the degree of importance that you have given to that issue. Our core values and beliefs are absolutely worth defending, but at some point there is a line that can be crossed into counteractive behavior. The overall objective of expressing your views is supposed to be to encourage conversation and gain/provide new perspectives. It is not to demean and disprove the beliefs of those to whom you do not agree. This can be challenging, especially for the people that have only really been surrounded by those that agree with them. It becomes easy to isolate others who disagree. They become the "other" belief to you. They become the "wrong" belief to you. That is a large problem with political parties in general; they give us one more excuse to segregate from one another. This is where I have been given a different perspective about a lesson that is so easily ignored.

Most of the people that I care for the absolute most in this world completely disagree with me. Though this makes for the occasional dramatic dinner conversation, it doesn't impede my respect for them. People are raised under different circumstances and with different perspectives. We all learn a variety of information and choose to formulate our ideals in different ways. Though most of my views closely align with the Democratic Party, they are not limited to those specifications. There should be no limits on your potential for personal growth. I am open to the ideas of others, or at least open to respectfully considering those ideas. That is the way it's supposed to be. There should be a reasonable expectation of kindness when communicating with others in general, let alone with communicating about crucial subjects that speak to the core values of other human beings. Somewhere along the line this level of respect became blurred amongst many people, and simply bashing beliefs, or dismissing other people, became almost second nature. That behavior cripples your intellectual ability to learn from others and to extend upon your own viewpoints.

This is where I stand to correct the entire title of this article. I'm not surrounded by clear-cut, opposing conservatives. I'm surrounded by people. These are people who disagree with me and who also encourage conversation that contributes to my intellectual growth. Having a sense of understanding is the only truly effective technique for learning about those that are different from you. Instead of viewing people as ignorant, choose to engage in their differing perspectives and discover how those experiences contribute to their knowledge. Instead of condemning beliefs such as religion, choose to understand how powerful that conviction can be for a person and the effects that would have on political opinions. Instead of becoming defensive and shooting insults at others for telling you that you are wrong, ask that they provide the evidence that supports their statements. Provide your own explanations as well. Learn from each other. Be respectful and kind. Even if people do not show you the same regard, show it to them. Intellectually riveting political conversation can be destroyed by the neglect of these important practices.

I love my family and friends, and so I respect their principles, regardless of whether or not those ideas support my personal beliefs. Therefore my largest piece of advice is to treat everyone with the same respect that you'd show if you loved them as you would a family member or friend. After all, we are friends until we give one another reason not to be, and we all have so much to learn.