The Fundamental Difference

Conservative vs Liberal

Here are two words, pick the one that appeals to you most: Justice or Mercy.  This is a basic question from the exceptional Meyers Briggs personality test.  I’ve used the results of this test to help people understand how they may think quite differently from their work colleges.  But it can just as easily be used to show some of the fundamental differences in viewpoint between Conservatives and Liberals.

In case you were wondering, Conservatives are usually more attracted to the word “Justice”.  From the conservative viewpoint, they want everyone treated the same under the law.  They believe in a system of rewards and punishment, that if you put forth the effort, you should enjoy the rewards, but if you cheat or steal, you should suffer consequences.

Similarly, Liberals are usually more attracted to the word “Mercy”.  From the liberal viewpoint, people should be taken care of if they need help.  They believe that compassion should be the main concern in dealing with others.

The political conflict between the two sides comes from how they each believe Government should operate.  The Liberal believes that Governments exist to help people, to ease their suffering and help them with their problems.  The Conservative believes that Governments should get out of people’s way, and should limit itself to fairness in administering the laws needed to maintain order and security.

The classical views they have of each other is that the Conservative believes the Liberal wants to tax everyone to pay to take care of everybody else, while the Liberal believes that Conservatives are heartless greedy people who care about no-one but themselves.

The ideas of “Justice” and “Mercy” seem to be in conflict.  But they are both valid viewpoints.  Fairness and Equanimity require Justice.  Compassion and Kindness require Mercy.  It is a good thing to want to help other people. Likewise, it is a good thing to strive for rewards based on your efforts.

The real problems come when one side wants to “override” or “cancel out” the other in the operation of Government.  When self-centeredness and greed are taken to extremes, many are left in desperate circumstances they cannot escape on their own.  When taking care of people is taken to extremes, you have to confiscate things from others to do so.  Both extremes lead to very bad outcomes.

What to Do

We need to listen to the viewpoints of each side.  We need to understand why people want to do what they want to do.

The discussions should then be about the HOW of accomplishing things.  The HOW should be done by attempting to provide for both Justice and Mercy.


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