So why does someone become a liberal, a conservative, a democrat, a republican. What are the character traits that produce our political ideology? The concept of the political left and right is a fairly challenging one to identify and articulate. In general people fall one way or the other, almost regardless of the issue. Those that are politically left on one issue tend to be left on every issue. The same goes for the right. This explains why there are two prominent parties in the United States – Democrats and Republicans. Why there are two descriptions for those leanings – liberal and conservative. It even explains why we use a two sided designation – left and right. What is the root of this two-sided reality? Is there a cause of political ideology?
I’ve heard explanations for this tendency, suggestions that one side can face the truth and the other can’t – of course the definition being defined by a person on the side that can face the truth. Others suggest the division comes from a distinction between the haves and the have-nots. It might be tempting to say that it has something to do with race or class, or possibly even religious affiliation. Each of these, though, can be quickly dispatched with by a quick review of the members of the left and right. We find people who can face the truth on both sides. We find rich and poor on both sides. We find people of every race on both sides. We even find people on both sides of every religious affiliation.
I believe the answer is deeper, something in our makeup, something beyond our circumstances, something beyond the physical; something spiritual. Not spiritual in the religious sense. By religion I mean the system that people form around their spiritual beliefs. I mean spiritual in the relational sense. Huh?
To me, the essence of spirituality is relationship. By way of illustration, consider that all of the 12 step programs help people to recover from destructive behavior by admitting 1) their own powerlessness over their own lives and behavior, 2) that a power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity, and by 3) turning their lives over to God as they understood him. These admissions recognize human weakness and look to another for strength. They find resources for living by relating to some higher power — by placing trust in this higher power. It’s a relationship – you have to place trust in something or someone – that is what makes spirituality relational.
All people, even those not struggling with addiction, face hardship, uncertainty, failure, etc. We live in a world where things are happening all around us that we have no control over. Most things happen to us. As human beings, we are powerless to prevent these challenges. Markets change, accidents happen, people do things to hurt us, the unexpected happens, people die, businesses fail. Our choices move our lives in a given direction, but most of the time our choices are in response to things that happen to us, responses to opportunities that presented themselves to us. I certainly believe that that least among us can succeed wildly, as a product of their choices, but along the way they will face many challenges. We are weak; this world has the ability to toss us to and fro. We are powerless over so many of these circumstances and as a result, vulnerable – a condition that produces fear. It is a person’s response to these challenges that I want to discuss – and show as the root of a person’s political ideology. Before I present this thinking, I want to emphasize that I’m generalizing significantly. It will be easy to find examples of people who don’t fit the mold, who are motivated by other factors such as group think, family and peer pressure, social expectations, etc. So my rationale is a general tendency that will gradually present itself as people grow, shrug off social pressures, and become more honest with themselves and their motivations.
In everything we face, we have a choice – our response. Steven Covey pointed out in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that between stimulus and response there is a freedom to choose, a distinction that separates us from the animals. I want to consider the spiritual element though, not the physical response. Before we make physical choices and actually do something after a given stimuli, our heart moves. Spiritually, something happens. We have a spiritual response before a physical one. This spiritual response is either a reaching outward or reaching inward. It’s a determination of whose resources upon which to draw; either those belonging to our higher power or our own resources. It is a response that says, I can relax, though I am weak, my higher power can deal with this – or, I’m lacking what I need right now. One produces a heart of confidence and security, the other produces fear and insecurity. This spiritual response sets the stage for our physical response. Our physical response will either be based in a security that comes from trust in something more powerful than ourselves or based in the insecurity that comes from knowing our own weakness and trying to provide for ourselves out of that weakness.
Again, I want to stress, this is a relational issue, not a religious issue. A religion can’t help you, but a higher power can. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m not concerned with who this higher power is, only that a person trusts that this higher power exists and is available for help in time of need. This trust in some kind of higher power also has another aspect. The belief that this higher power has good in mind for them and will work to make things better.
So to sum up my theory: We are not gods; we are not all knowing or all powerful. Our humanity makes us vulnerable to unforeseen circumstances. Political ideology is a result of the spiritual response to our humanity. The response to weakness is the deciding factor in who goes left and who goes right.
I believe this hypothesis helps us to understand many of the behavioral characteristics we observe in ourselves and in our fellow man. Let’s examine these human tendencies.
The physical responses – gaining power over others. Gaining power in general. The natural response to a feeling of being out of control is to try to gain that control back.
In an organization, this tendency to fight fear by taking control will manifest as a manager trying to micro manage every activity within their responsibility – and quite a bit outside. The person who trusts in a higher power is more likely to push responsibility down and allow subordinates the opportunity to make decisions.
Those on the right, except where motivated by group think or a desire to be accepted by other members of the right (or other socially motivated pressures) believe essentially that things will work out. You see the product of this belief everywhere. They tend to trust people when people are working to take care of themselves. They tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. They tend to have more grace and give people space to make mistakes and to recover from them. Why? Because a higher power has allowed them to make mistakes and sees to it that they recover, learn, grow, and do better next time. They believe in the freedom to make mistakes because they have made mistakes. The trusting heart says, “I have no need to fear because though I am weak, my God is strong.”
This has another side – these people take responsibility for their choices. They take the blame for their mistakes because in so doing, they are no longer victims and have the power to overcome. These believers are overcomers. They learn and move on. As a result they believe that others should also reject a victim mentality, learn from their own mistakes, take responsibility for their own lives, and move on.
They believe in the golden rule – doing unto others as you want other to do to you. Although they will be generous with their own property to support that which they believe in, they don’t want their property taken from them to give to causes they don’t believe in – especially for those who claim to be victims. Consequently, they don’t insist that property be taken from their fellow man to support their own causes.
The people we presently label as conservative, the political right, or republican tend to believe in themselves, believe in their fellowman, and believe in the goodness of a higher power help make difficult circumstances work out for good. Those who do not trust in a higher power over their own powerlessness have a protectionist response. They often find another person to blame when things go poorly.
Beneath every political position are layers, much like an onion, that when peeled back reveal deeper beliefs about the person holding those views. People have their political affiliations due to deeply held core beliefs that they may not even be aware of. Keep peeling back the layers though, and you’ll eventually find a heart that either believes and trusts in God, or a heart that does not.