Making a Difference

By Genie Jennings,
Contributing Editor

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we used to chant at people who called us names when I was young. However, words can hurt. Sometimes, they can hurt so much they alienate people who otherwise would be allies.
Last September at the Gun Rights Policy Conference, we learned that words were coming very close to driving a wedge between attendees. At our Resolutions Committee meeting on Sunday morning, to our horror one of our committee members was brought to tears during the discussion of one of the proposed resolutions. Several attendees felt they were unwanted, because of the harshness of terms they felt directed at them, personally. Others were appalled at audience acceptance of admittedly un-pc presentations, and what some considered sexist remarks.
The first protest about language occurred in our pre-conference media segment. Half-way through, a young woman stood up to say that she felt very uncomfortable listening to the discussions because there were so many disparagements against ‘liberals.’ “I am a liberal,” she told us.
I listened to the entire weekend’s program with her admonishment and others’ agreement in mind. I was very aware of the laughter, applause and other indications of approval of statements and phrases that could be having a negative effect on my new friends. Still, I was not prepared to witness the depth of otherness experienced by my fellow committeewoman on Sunday morning. The saving grace of the moment was the immediate compassion that gushed from almost everyone at the table.
We are approaching a crisis state in the country. There is so much continuing animosity between political groups, and everything is made political nowadays. Everything and everyone is labeled.
One big problem is that the labels are not clearly defined. When I was young, I decided I must be a liberal, because according to the dictionary a conservative was someone who did not want to change the way things were. I knew I wanted much of what was happening in the country to be different, therefore I must be a liberal, which was defined by the same dictionary as someone who wanted change. However, I eventually learned that things were being run by liberals, so the way I wanted to change things would be, given only two choices, conservative. For a while I dubbed myself ‘Constitutionalist.’ Then, some folks decided to use that name for a particular party. I was a TEA Party member when the movement started and ‘member’ was just a way of saying I believed I had been Taxed Enough Already. Then, once again, someone decided to make the TEA Party into the Tea Party and organize and choose a nominee for federal office, which had nothing to do with the original protest against both political parties taxing us way beyond Enough.
Some of the confusion exists because there is a classical definition of liberalism as “…a political ideology that values the freedom of individuals—including the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and markets—as well as limited government. It developed in 18th-century Europe and drew on the economic writings of Adam Smith and the growing notion of social progress.” Further, it “… is a political philosophy and ideology … in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the individual by limiting the power of the government.” (
However, in the past century that definition has been altered to require a government large and powerful enough to control and attempt to provide everything citizens need. The struggle remains between the rights of individuals to control their own lives and the government. The priority of the individual or the group.
Some of us believe that individual rights are paramount, that government should be confined to providing a protection between individuals and supplying those things, such as national defense and some infrastructure, that need to be provided through a group effort. We understand that human nature is as it has been, although some of our more vicious, brutish characteristics as a species have been civilized out of the majority. (Watch a brief episode of Game of Thrones to get an idea of how people acted in the Middle Ages. Then, thank the Universe in whatever way you connect to it that you live here, now.)
We believe in providing equal opportunity to everyone, although we understand that, human nature being as it is, some of us will do better than others. When the Pilgrims first arrived in the country, they set up a socialist form of government. Everyone shared everything equally, regardless how much each had worked to provide goods or services. It did not take long before very little was being produced, and the colony was in danger of dissolving. They changed. Each person was given a specific plot of land, and the group flourished, although some members did much better than others because of their more industrious natures.
Societies are always faced with the dilemma of what to do with and for those people who do not thrive. For the past several decades we have been moving towards a goal not of equal opportunity, but of equal outcome. It is not considered fair that some people do better than others. The New Liberal belief is that government must provide for an equality of results.
So, if you tell me you are a liberal, which belief system are you accepting? Are you, as am I, a Classical Liberal and believe in the supremacy of the individual, or a New Liberal and believe in the superiority of government to create equality?
In addition to the difference in definitions, there is the problem that different groups are defined not by their own ideas of their belief system, but rather by the way their opposites think they believe. So, if I say I am a Conservative, there are people who conclude that I am a bigoted, religiously fundamentalist, racist, sexist homophobe. From that moment everything I write or say is judged through those prisms. I am none of those things. Nor do I call myself a Classical Liberal, because no one will understand what I am claiming except for a few radical followers of Frederick Hyeck.
I would like to propose that we cease and desist with labels. They do nothing but promote dissension and misunderstanding, even among people such as the attendees at last fall’s convention who all believe in some of the same things. For decades I have professed that I will work with anyone who supports the Second Amendment while we are working on that issue, regardless of how much I might disagree with everything else that they think. (Currently I have had that decision sorely tried because of Facebook comments on the efficacy of supporting certain groups in their quest for arming themselves. The decision holds and the most I am doing is taking names for future reference should I ever have reason to associate with these people other than online in a 2A supporting group. Establishing and maintaining a coherent personal world view is a difficult, ongoing task.)
Rather, I would suggest we discuss what we believe when we are dealing with important issues. To say I believe in the rights of individuals to pursue their personal ambitions, that everyone should have an equal chance to do so, and that the federal government should not intrude on anything that is not Constitutionally described as its jurisdiction means much more than saying I am a conservative, a classical liberal, a constitutionalist. There should be no mistaking what I am saying with my description of my beliefs.
Also, these are some of my beliefs. They are an integral part of myself. Yours may differ. We should honor what each of us cares enough about to state as our beliefs. We can work from there. Even if we are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, by stating what we believe we open ourselves to the possibility of finding common ground.
My belief in the primacy of the individual does not mean that I do not care for people who do not to rise to their potential through their own or society’s failure. Far from it. I care about those who struggle. I hate that there are children born into poverty and other situations that put them in an extremely disadvantaged position that is out of their control. Children determine their potential by observing the adults around them. One of the most haunting statements from my favorite television series, The Wire, is the plea, “How do you get from here to the rest of the world?”
Indeed. We can get everyone from their “here” to the rest of the world, we can protect our essential basic human rights, working together. To work together we must first be together, and we can start by hurling neither sticks and stones nor words. Namaste.