Friday, August 9, 2013

Understanding Perspectives

Today I hear a lot that the country is more divided, more partisan than ever.  It seems to be a theme with many supporting media posts in the last few years.  I have friends who hold very conservative and very liberal beliefs, and to me we all have a lot in common.  In fact, of the people I talk to the most, two of them voted for Obama and two of them voted for Johnson.  I play hockey with a couple guys who would rather die than not vote Republican.  But all these people come from similar motivations, it's just their perspective is different.  Everyone wants to make the world a better place, we are just divided on exactly how to do that.  As well, there seems to be an increased focus on the issues that polarize us than in the past.  I have theories as to why this is, mostly that it allows the two major parties to maintain their dominance.  But that's a topic for another day!

I have both liberal and conservative friends who are perplexed about why gun rights supporters seem unwilling to budge, but certainly more liberal friends who don't get it.  Today I'm going to attempt to draw an analogy.  I'm going to suggest that the motivation and stances chosen by proponents of two civil rights issues are very similar.

And that's the first point with my two groups.  People who support gun rights and people who supportive reproductive choice both see their issue as one of civil rights.  They believe this to their core and they approach the subject accordingly.  I'm not suggesting that people in the pro-life or gun control crowds don't also see their position as one of civil rights.  Only that if we understand that is how a position is held, it helps us understand a supporters desire and motivation and intensity of belief.

People are passionate about civil rights.  People are willing to fight and sacrifice to gain or keep civil rights.  It can be a very motivating thing.  I think if people understand that gun rights proponents view it as a civil rights issue, it will be better understood why they are unwilling to give an inch, even if that inch seems reasonable to others.

To test how people view civil rights causes they are passionate about, I asked a number of friends the same question.  For people who are passionate about reproductive freedom, the questions were:
    1) Do you think we have enough restrictions on abortion today?
    2)  Are there additional reasonable restrictions on abortion you would support?

And for people who are gun rights advocates, the questions were:
    1) Do you think we have enough restrictions on firearm ownership and use today?
    2) Are there additional reasonable restrictions on gun rights you would support?

I asked 6 people each set of questions.  One person who I know is passionate about both issues got both sets of questions.  I went into this thinking the answers would be nearly identical.  They ended up being similar, but not as similar as I would have thought.  But both groups of people agreed that:

    1) The existing restrictions we have are enough, or too much.
    2) New restrictions would not be acceptable.

It's possible you fall into one or both of these camps.  If you are educated on existing laws regulating firearms or reproductive rights and passionate about either of those subjects you may feel the same way as the people who responded to my questions.  You may have seen evidence where politicians try to sneak in new restrictions under the guise of safety or reasonable, when in practice they are neither.

Isn't that reasonable when you think about it?  Shouldn't we expect people to react this way on an issue they see as civil rights?  Whether or not you agree with the substance of their stance, how they approach their thoughts on the subject shouldn't be a surprise.  You likely feel the same way about civil rights issues you are passionate about.  I know I do.

So the next time you write off someone because they have a desire to give no ground on a given issue, consider the issues that matter to you.  If you are passionate about protecting reproductive freedom, you can better understand a person who is passionate about supporting gun rights and vice versa.  Whether you agree with the stance or not, understanding how they are unwilling to yield offers insight into their perspective.  I hope looking at it in this manner will help people who may not agree relate to each other a little better.


  1. Just because you can see where the other side is coming from, doesn't mean that their stance is reasonable. I'm partisan on both those issues, and I just don't care how the other side derives it's positions, as I've already dismissed their lines of reasoning as inane. And, I don't want to 'relate' to folks with inane reasoning. Why would I? What I want is to distance myself from what I cognitive defectives as much possible.

  2. I'm glad you responded because you're exactly the sort of person I'm trying to reach. In an open society everyone is entitled to think the way they want, whether we may or may not agree with them. How does it help your cause or society in general by branding people who disagree as "inane" and "defective"? Their opinion as voters certainly significant, and mocking them excludes you from being able to engage them in discourse. Mocking them only drives them deeper to their cause and (rightfully) dismiss you and your thoughts.

    When you do that, it comes across as hateful. You cast yourself and the cause you are advocating in a poor light when you relegate yourself to name calling. It breeds divisiveness, gives people of opposing views a reason to write your view off and wins over no people to your cause. It deepens the stalemate on many issues that politicians use to keep the two party system in power.

    Would you rather be viewed as reasonable and rational by people with opposing views? That's the only way they will even pause to listen, and without that your cause won't advance. Name calling and writing off people's opinions is good for breeding hate and maintaining a chasm between groups, but it achieves nothing else other than making people who do it look foolish.