Tolerance to Intolerance- How to deal with conservative people (Zen for the liberal activist)

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It’s hard to live as a liberal. For mostly the typical threats of being considered crazy and vulgar, but for me especially because of the fear of appearing hypocritical by being “intolerant” towards those with extremely conservative views. I want to defy all orthodoxy and establish my case religiously, without coming off as rigid. Impossible. One always ends up coming out as inflexible and in fact proves the opposite of his/her ideological stand in such circumstances. It’s like the Godelian phenomenon of self- reference, an idea that encompasses itself: If I am actually liberal (i.e. open), I have to be open to conservative ideas as well.

Well, how does that happen? Can I try? Should I try?

I do find it hard to be calm, happy and myself around homophobic and racist people. I want to punish them and prove to them that they are wrong. I also find it hard to force myself to hate them just because they are conservative even while I’m having fun with them. Because they have other qualities too, some of which are good, like humor or being sweet, hard working. I am very good friends with a lot of these people and a few are close family members.  I get along with a lot of them, but I don’t know whether I should “stay away” or not. Should I raise my level of empathy and make it unconditional? I should understand that they are conditioned to think like this, perhaps because of their family background or parent’s thinking.

A lot of people who find themselves associated with a political ideology because they feel like they intrinsically believe in those particular beliefs, are accused by their friends and families of being “brainwashed” and too “extreme”. That’s highly understandable, however, if this is not just a “phase” for the individual and is actually is inspiration, self discovery and true calling, then he/she will have to eventually make new friends and find his.her tribe. Someone will end up changing in the end. Either the friends or family will end up becoming more liberal, or the individual will live in a guilt complex, anxiety.

Vaijju, one of my favorite Professors on campus, once said while giving a talk on her life “I am very clear about my political leaning. I am left of center and will always fight the extreme right. For example, I will never share a table with Sakshi Maharaj”. That made me feel a little less guilty. I thought “okay, so I can hate certain people whose ideas make no sense”.

One must communicate and interact with people who have differing ideas. Dialogue is a powerful tool. People CAN change. Keep this possibility as your ray of hope. Through personal experience, I can say that. I know people from my life who have changed. They have taken feedback and understood the bigger picture. A lot of my close friends used to be really conservative. But today, they’re very different. They have at least become okay with others doing as they please and even opened up to embracing novel ways of doing things in their own lives.

So my point is that isolation and breaking communication doesn’t help. You need to be the mature guy and speak their language in order to get your point out. Academic arrogance will only lead to further polarization and no space for grey areas. Both sides need to learn from each other. There ought to be communication for positive change to happen. If you want to follow liberal ideology, you have to follow it in a liberal way, that of inclusion, dialogue, tolerance and openness.

Integrity v/s selling out-

It’s easy to stop talking to people who have shitty views. It’s easy to “disown” them and wish they’d die. But that wont change the world. The way is to work hard on building a human-to-human connection with everyone, regardless of their political views, for the failure to do so will be considered discrimination which is highly “un-liberal”. Socialize with all these people and make them see the world through your eyes. Show them how beautiful it can be and how happy it will make them if they adopted more open views. Weren’t liberals also supposed to be altruistic?

Another reason , is demography. When I think or talk about the idea of liberalism, I picture the present- day American idea: the pro-sexual minorities and sexual rights kind (even though that’s not the case everywhere). However, I have to empathize maturely with the demography of the place I talk about. Perhaps its too idealistic of me to expect people from India to follow, or believe in such ideas. But I could be completely wrong in saying that sexual liberalism is a western concept. After all, India is the “land of Kamasutra”, we have one of the biggest populations in the world, homosexuality was very much prevalent in the subcontinent check any history source) etc etc. A counter argument could be the example given by my political science teacher at college, when she said “People say condition of minorities is great in India because the 3 Khans are dominating the entertainment industry. That obviously means that the condition of Muslims is hunky dory in India” (Paraphrasing). Applied to the logic of India and Indians being “liberal”, just because our ancestors wrote the kamasutra, we have a population explosion and too many people have unprotected sex, doesn’t mean that there is no taboo around sex still in our country, even amongst the elites, especially when they are considered to be more colonially influenced and hence “liberal”. (regressive hypothesis)

Grudges are bad for your health and happiness. If you want to contentment and good relationships, stop harboring hate and judgment.

  1. Don’t bite them unless they bark at you- don’t bombard them with an alternate belief system if they’re not personally bothering you with it. There’s a difference between authoritative and conservative.
  2. Before swearing to not sit on the same table as them, try to have a conversation. Maybe its actually lack of exposure, too much familial conditioning without any counter questioning. When you provide counter arguments through a healthy way, their eyes might open. A lot of people haven’t had exposure. We need to be kind and empathetic. Not diss, intimidate and hate them. Arrogance is not the way to deal with the situation
  3. Empathy, compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance goes a long way-try to see the strengths and good things about that person. Focus on their positives. Relationships sustain when you focus on commonalities, and not differences.
  4. Don’t presume their beliefs. They might be socialist but racist, homophilic but sexist. People have their own combination of beliefs, often not restricting themselves to the classical definitions of any political ideology.
  5. Be confident about who you are and what you believe in. Stop doubting your own self and have faith in the things you believe in. Then, no one can affect, hurt or harm you.
  6. Listen to the other side as well and be unbiased. You might learn interesting arguments from them.
  7. Scan your relationship with them. If they are in your family or cicrcle of close friends, you will have to learn to deal with them. If they are people who you can easily avoid and chose not to be friends with, more power to you.
  8. Believe it or not, you need enough charm to convince others that your way is right. Especially if your way preaches charm (empathy, acceptance, humor, openness) itself.

Even if all this fails, and the other side just doesn’t stop being an ass, let it be. Your peace of mind is more important than people who aren’t willing to transcend beyond their beliefs.

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