I noticed her the first day of class because she was so pretty, if quiet. But the idea that we could ever be close friends sounded ridiculous. You see, in one of our early group discussions she introduced herself as a Christian AND a conservative, which was enough in my books to write her off as a potential friend material. (It’s not that I don’t have any conservative Christian friends – I do, but it’s not easy sometimes. See one of my previous columns The Thin Red Line.) Like her religious beliefs and political views weren’t bad enough, she was a mom. (It’s not that I don’t have any friends who are moms – I do, but it’s not easy sometimes. See one of my previous columns The Baby Wars.)
So overall, I was ready to treat her as a colleague – politely and respectfully – but I couldn’t picture us like anything more than that.
Later that semester I was pleasantly surprised when she took my side in one of the heated discussions about the oppression of women in the United States, which is an area in which I often differ from the counseling majority, mainly because I believe that most of the arguments how terribly women are oppressed in this country are flawed (okay, originally I wanted to write “bullshit,” but I’m trying to be diplomatic here). I didn’t expect her to share my views, but she did.
“Wow, who knew that we did have something in common after all!” I said in amazement.
She gave me a pointed look.
“I think that we have more in common than you think,” she said.
I chose to remain skeptical. But then she asked me to lunch. We have a very good Thai restaurant in our college town, so that’s we ended up having some delicious food and a good conversation.
She said that being “religious and conservative” did not necessarily mean being a religious fanatic and political oppressor.
“When I say that I’m conservative, I mean mostly money and how it should be spent,” she said.
When it comes to welfare, she continued, the government should be able to assist those who are TRULY in need, like physically disabled or long-term ill, but shouldn’t support people who are capable of working, but often choose not to.
“Well, if that’s what you mean by being conservative,” I replied, “than that means that I’m conservative too!”
It might come as a surprise to those of my friends who know me as a liberal leftist with passion for social justice, but I’m not such a bleeding heart when it comes to distributing welfare as it might seem. Yes, I’m well aware that poverty is a very complex issue and I’m not out here to promote the idea that poor people are poor because they are lazy (or stupid). BUT: I’m also aware that there are some folks out there who will grab your whole hand if you offer them a finger.
Take, for example, my ex-boyfriend. Before I moved out and lost touch with him, he spent a couple of YEARS being unemployed and without any motivation to even look for a job. In his opinion, he was making a political statement: He simply REFUSED to work for our rotten, oppressive capitalistic society! In the beginning, when I was still naïve enough to believe that maybe with the help of some Socratic reasoning I will talk some sense into him, I asked how he intended to pay for things. He responded that he will pay for them in any way he can (which, translated to English, meant draining my savings account and borrowing money from his family) and if he got to the point where he couldn’t pay for them anymore, then he would simply do without, because he wasn’t materialistic. Okay, fair enough! But what really got to me was that despite of his constant trashing of the system and claiming that it never does ANYTHING for people in need, he has been using Link Card for this whole time, taking advantage of the fact that no one ever showed up on our doorstep to check on him. The way I saw it, Link Card was meant to be helping people who lost their jobs and struggled to get back on their feet, not to those who voluntarily decided to quit working because they believed that their true calling was to teach people enlightenment (or whatever shit my ex was up to).
And that’s how my classmate and I found a common language. We both strongly believe in helping the poor and oppressed, but we also believe that too much help (especially if it comes only in the form of welfare check and nothing else) can hinder the sense of personal responsibility and motivation. So for once, the conservative right and the liberal left had lunch in peace, like a pair of lovebirds J I can’t speak for my friend, but for me, the learning experience was powerful: Before our lunch, I couldn’t even hear the word “conservative” without feeling an urge to vomit, and now I realize that being conservative doesn’t necessarily mean being anti-gay, anti-environmental, anti-sex, anti–everything-I-stand-for. Some people identify as conservative when it comes to views on how the government should be run and what should happen to our taxes, but apart from that they are perfectly capable to let others live peacefully.
You would think that I have learned this a long time ago! But it still fascinates me how people from different cultural, religious, ethnic, and various other backgrounds can often pleasantly surprise me, once I give them a chance… That being said, if anyone out there feels different from me and would like to take me out for lunch – I’m totally open ;-)