“Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”
in my early 20’s, i worked for a man who shared this quote with me. i was, of course, infuriated and felt he could never understand my ardent claims that i could never and would never call myself a conservative.
that was in my early 20’s. things are much different now.
all through my 20’s, i’ve wrestled with one ideology after another. i’ve idolized the words of Shane Claiborne, have sought “intentional community,” have gone vegetarian for the sake of the food industry, have only purchased farm fresh eggs and milk for the last 4 years as a protest to commercial farming, have joined the recycle-train, explored naturapathic alternatives to the increasingly defunct healthcare system. i’ve cried over the plight of the poor, strapping the burden of the world onto my own back, convinced the only way to change the world was embrace a life of martyrdom and poverty. i’ve constantly pushed back on how our society tells us to live.
i’ve been a really good liberal.
don’t get me wrong, many of these things are good and have been good for me. but they’ve reflected the inner fears of a little girl, scared that her life might become something she desperately despised. that she might become like her parents, unhappy and bitter and hopelessly swept up in the web of this world.
all that clinging to ideologies didn’t land me anywhere different, however. there have been a lot of incredible memories of course, but a lot of other memories that leave me shaking my head, muttering “what was i thinking.”
things started to change months ago when, upon doing my taxes, i realized that i was dangerously close to the poverty line. me…an educated young person with no physical disabilities was often unable to pay even the most basic of life necessities. not to mention my debt load. i knew, then, something was changing within me…the liberal was developing a conservative side.
just how much i’ve changed hit me full-force yesterday.
i was driving thru my “hood” of a neighborhood and saw a group of junior-high aged kids gathered on the sidewalk. in my quick glancing i saw what i thought to be a gun in the hands of one of the boys. he was swinging it around, pointing it unflinchingly at one of the girls.
“holy shit,” i said to my best friend on the phone, as i pulled to the side of the road. i relayed what i had just seen to her. “what’s my ethical responsibility here?” i asked.
“maybe you should ask them if it’s a real gun?” she suggested, tho not with much confidence. i considered her suggestion, and immediately had an image of the gun being pointed at me.
“no way,” i said immediately. “i’m not gonna die because they want to be stupid. they’re old enough to know what they’re doing,” and i put the car back in gear, not looking back as i drove away.
the old me would have considered it my greatest responsibility to stop that activity, to risk my own death for the sake of one of those kids. but the new me…the new me realizes and appreciates just how much i have to lose, how much i want to live, and acknowledges that each of us has choices to make. if those kids choose to play with guns in the street, it is they who must live with those consequences. i can’t be responsible for everyone. i can, however, be responsible for, and care for, myself.
there is a certain clarity of mind that comes with my conservative self. i feel much more myself than i ever have before, feel i know my priorities, know who i am and who i’m not. know, especially, what i’m willing, and not willing to give. as my friend recently put it, “you can stop playing the martyr and do something good for yourself.”
i’m still not convinced that Churchill’s words are the only truth, simply because he polarizes the two, makes you believe they are the opposite of one another. my teacher during the training school once described a liberal as someone who desires to set the captives free, and a conservative as one who desires to preserve what is precious. i think this more accurately reflects my current stage of the journey. loving and giving, desiring freedom for the oppressed, realizing that there are precious things in this world and in my life that need my protection.
still a bleeding-heart liberal, living as a more clear-minded conservative.