It’s often said that the only certainty in life is change. The future often possesses an ominous quality because we know things will change and not all of those changes will be good. The past, though, always looks better because the element of uncertainty has been removed.
The prospect of change can be frightening. I’m not the only person worried about the changes to our economy — and our lives — if the drought continues. And a lot of us are probably worrying about the changes we’ll see as a result of the November election, though members of different parties have very different worries.
Scientists are examining why liberals and conservatives see things so differently, and some clues have emerged. Both personality types have comparative strengths and weaknesses, and some of the difference in the way conservatives and liberals think is reflected in the very terms by which they are known. Conservatives by definition resist change, while liberals, or “progressives” as they are sometimes called, embrace it.
When my son William was about 8 he asked me what liberals and conservatives were. I hadn’t been expecting that, and wasn’t sure how to explain it to one so young. I ended up saying that the average conservative is somebody who has so much trouble dealing with life that he can’t imagine it changing. The average liberal, on the other hand, is someone who has so much trouble dealing with life that he can’t imagine it not changing.
And studies seem to back me up. Research has shown conservatives to be more easily frightened than liberals. Conservatives also have more difficulty adapting to new situations. Thus conservatives have a greater fear of change and find security in “staying the course.” Many conservatives, burdened with the challenges of earning a living and raising a family, fear change will make things worse – thus they struggle to maintain the status quo, even when the status quo is one of struggle.
Liberals, on the other hand, are less inclined to fear change. Thus many liberals struggling to earn a living and raise a family seek change in the hopes that it will lessen their struggles and lead to growth.
The pioneers were, like the founding fathers before them, progressives willing to take risks to make life better. Western social justice and our high standard of living are the result of centuries of such efforts.
Yet conservatives have contributed to our advancement as well, for example, by balancing liberal idealism with their greater concern for what can go wrong. Traditionally, conservative strengths have compensated for liberal weaknesses and vice versa like partners in a successful marriage – and until recently this relationship has more or less worked.
Today our nation is facing some of the greatest challenges since the Great Depression and World War II, and many of these problems have been made much worse by the increasing divide between progressive and conservative views. Many conservatives apparently believe things like child labor laws, safe food, pensions for the elderly, civil rights and now universal healthcare have made life worse rather than better, and are seeking to return to a nineteenth century approach to government. Liberals, on the other hand, believe that economically we’ve already returned to the age of the robber barons and that we need to reimpliment effective regulations and an equitable tax code.
So long as half our electorate is dedicated to destroying what the other half has accomplished, it’s hard not to worry about the changes ahead no matter who wins the November election…