Conservatives are a rare commodity here on Mercer Island, but somehow, we are everywhere.
We infiltrate the back of your civics classrooms. We silently prowl the fringes of the political conversation, carefully self-censoring our opinions, lest we expose ourselves. Funnily enough, we are also hard to spot; we don’t often don the notorious MAGA hat.
Republicans, Conservatives, Right-Wingers, Deplorables (whatever they call us) are not a “touchy-feely” bunch: we’d rather talk business and politics than emotions. For the most part, we like to keep our heads down and do our work.
However, let me tell you how we feel when our school talks about “inclusion.”
We chuckle when we hear that our liberal-dominated school wants to add “inclusion” to its motto. Inclusion in and of itself is no laughing matter, but when teachers refuse to listen to our points of view or our peers reject us for our beliefs, we do not feel particularly welcome, even in the safest of spaces. The irony cuts us deep.
Schools are supposed to be places to share diverse voices and opinions, right? In the classroom, students should be able to engage in civil discourse without being afraid of being “talked down” by peers or teachers. No student ever deserves to be bashed for thinking for themselves, right? Many conservative students find they want to raise their hand to say something but don’t because they might get a snide comment or a bad grade in return.
If we as a student body cannot overcome our biases and provide perspectives from all sides, we will never have meaningful conversations about inclusion. At the same time, analyzing both perspectives does not mean hearing from intellectuals on the left and then dismissing the crazies on the right as racist, misogynist, insensitive, haters, etc. Thoughtful discussion requires respect, diversity of thought and an open mind.
First and foremost, respect. Every human being deserves it, along with kindness. Don’t worry; both sides have had their fair share of attacks. My idea? Let’s “Make America Kind Again.” That might be an impossible request, but it’s worth a shot.
Secondly, diversity of thought. There is nothing to be gained from a like-minded classroom. There is no point in holding discussions in an echo-chamber where everyone agrees with everyone; there is no fun or growth in that. No matter what side you find yourself on, step into the classroom with the willingness to learn and possibly change your opinion. Learning isn’t merely advancing your own ideologies but entertaining the merits of other ones.
“But we can’t include racists and deplorables!” you cry. And you are right; thankfully, not all of us are racists or deplorables. Those are just the labels someone slapped on us. Personally, I feel very upset by these labels because they come from a place of misunderstanding. Conservatives are often wrongly called ‘nazis’. Nothing is more offensive or further from the truth. Conservatives despise destructive ideologies like national socialism as do they despise collectivist ideologies like socialism. We the Conservatives have done our fair share of labeling too, and I am by no means justifying it. Labels aren’t cool. They degrade individuality.
In my own experience, I have found that the so-called “culture wars” are not necessarily split into left and right. There is a spectrum. Conservatives often disagree on certain issues within their own circles. “Conservative” and “liberal” are broad terms; having opinions that fall in both categories don’t necessarily make an individual one or the other.
Before you dismiss someone because you don’t like their metal straw that reads “BIG GOVERNMENT SUCKS,” think about how much you could learn from them and listen to what they have to say, maybe empathize a little and treasure their boldness. It is incredibly hard to be the odd-one-out.
Do something courageous: Include them.