Columnist Glenn Beck published a terrific piece this month, “We Must Define Words So They Don’t Define Us,” about communicating across the aisle to friends, family and colleagues who might not share your political views. “The more I engage with those who don’t share my views, the more I realize how seldom we actually communicate,” he writes.  It’s a terrific sentiment that more of us might do well to apply. 

Whether you are watching C-SPAN or simply having dinner with family, it is not difficult to see a stark divide in current American political parties. Sometimes, merely saying that you are a liberal or a conservative is enough to send people in the opposing party into a furious rant about how your ideology is destroying the fabric of society. However, much of this disagreement is often a result of people simply not understanding what each of these labels stands for.


Ultimately, liberals are individuals who believe that the government should step in to protect the liberties of certain vulnerable groups. They also believe the government should be proactive in preventing discrimination and poverty. Creating equal opportunities for everyone is the goal, and the government should make those opportunities readily available as opposed to hoping societal change will occur naturally on its own.


Whereas liberals believe that the government should utilize its power to the fullest extent, conservatives believe the government should have a more limited role. Conservatives stress the Constitution needs to remain the basis from which the United States derives its laws, particularly regarding the limited role of government. Conservatives, too, are concerned with equality, yet with a greater emphasis placed on self-reliance and self-empowerment.


While progressivism is generally used in tandem with liberalism, it is possible for conservatives to be considered progressive as well. In a 2012 column for The Daily Beast, writer Justin Green says, “Taken as a whole, progressive conservatism offers a positive vision of a limited, but vigorous, federal government promoting the interests of America’s working families and communities.”

Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, everyone is striving for the same goal: a better society. You might identify as a certain label, but that does not mean you cannot engage in civil discourse with someone who holds a different label. A variety of ideologies is ultimately what makes this country so great.