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Daniel Bruch column: Proposing a purple reign (and no, this is not about the Vikings)

Daniel Bruch

We are living in a time of political mischief, much of it malicious. Perhaps that's why our first president, George Washington, offered these comments about such behavior: "The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of (political) party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it," and "[The spirit of party] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one party against another." After over 200 years, things seem not to have changed. What, if anything, can we do?

First, a short note about definitions. Unfortunately, our country has been divided into reds (conservatives) and blues (liberals). Defining the terms conservative and liberal by their root meanings, the word conservative comes from a derivation of the 11th century old English word "cunnen," which came to be shortened to "con." It also comes from the Proto-Indo- European root word "ser." "Con" means "to make an attempt, try or seek to do," while "ser" means "to protect." So the root meaning of conservative is someone seeking to protect the status-quo. The word liberal comes from the Latin word "liber," which means "pertaining to or befitting a free person," and "free, unrestricted, unimpeded." So the root meaning of liberal is someone seeking the freedom to initiate change.

Let's assume conservatives (red) and liberals (blue) each have their roles to play. Let's recognize and affirm that conservatives (those generally predisposed to resist change) have an important place in society. Humans, cross-culturally, seem to be predominantly resistant to change and most comfortable with the status-quo. That being the case, most likely conservatives are not now, never have been, nor ever will be an endangered species.

In fact, the difficulty with getting any social movement or social change accomplished is that most people do not want to be moved or changed!

So we might agree that this comfort with the status-quo is not inherently bad. Without it, sociologists tell us that there would be insufficient social organization for an orderly society. Without a majority of people wanting to stay put where they are and keep working as they are, the consequent social change would likely lead to more social disorganization than a society could long endure. In short, we need conservatives and can appreciate the social stability they bring to our culture.

But we also need liberals (those generally predisposed to freely encourage and support change) to balance, to challenge, and to inspire those who are comfortable with things as they are. Liberals almost always constitute a minority for the reason mentioned above. Liberals constitute a continuing "endangered species" because their disposition toward change confounds the majority, frightens some, worries many, and often challenges predominant societal assumptions. It may be easier not to have liberals around, but without their balance and impetus toward change, social life would stagnate.

What can we do? We can agree that most people have a little bit of traditional conservatism and liberalism woven within their personal and world views. Most of the people around us are neither totally "red" nor totally "blue" in the sense of current political identification. Rather, we see them in varying shades of purple (that wonderful mix of red and blue). Perhaps we can start to see that most of us are somewhere on the purple spectrum. We can also recognize that we share some common values about the conflicted issues of the day.

What we are not very good at is simply speaking to one another to find those common values that can draw us together. It is always time to try.