My political journey from a conservative to liberal mindset


This is the story of what it took to change political sides and how I deal with those who will never join me. The key to both is respect.

I can’t speak for anyone’s experience with conservatism but my own. I don’t think this is how everyone who is conservative thinks or feels, but I can understand some of it.

Growing up, I believed following a certain conformity made you better than other people. Rules were awesome, and there should be total disdain for breaking them. Questioning the rules was a sign of weakness. The word “should” was prominent in my vocabulary.

I have always been a faithful Catholic. This means prayers every day, weekly mass attendance, etc. In this area, I also valued unquestioning obedience. I felt like I was different and the will-power to follow a lifestyle perfectly made me better than everyone else.

It’s easy to look for ways you’re better than everyone else when no one seems to like you. It’s also easy to see yourself and your group as the underdogs and rebels. In my case, kids thought I was weird due to my always being sick and needing to miss school, or that I wasn’t into things like TRL or magazines. I was more into what my older sister and brother liked, video games and such (which are very cool, so not sure what these kids had in mind for fun).

I was called lesbian or witch constantly. (I wholeheartedly agree that using a sexual orientation as an insult side by side with witch is highly offensive. I don’t want to get too off topic, but these are the two most common tactics of bullying I was on the receiving end of. See the third most common below) Much to my regret, I became a bully and a misanthrope. This really helped me identify even stronger with conservative values, since I live in a pretty liberal area. We conservatives were all outsiders.

In high school, I finally made some real friends, who I am still friends with to this day. I am the only white girl among this group of friends and that has been an enormous blessing for me. I’m not sure why they invited me to their lunch table. I had a lot of “I’m not racist but-” beliefs. We had a lot of arguments, normally with me as the lone dissenter.

I treated every conversation as a competition, a win-lose situation. But I kept losing, over and over, despite my (obvious) intelligence. I think it was after witnessing micro-aggressions towards my friends over and over again that I finally was willing to at least understand, if not adopt, their reasoning and point of view.

To this day we love a good debate, and as we dive deeper into topics and gain maturity, we realize we agree on a lot more than we don’t, and also that each of our beliefs run deeper than “what political team are you on?”

In college, I went to a Catholic school in Washington, D.C. I never got involved in politics but let’s just say they came up. A lot. I loved the game of “winning” against democrats. Any political opinions motivated or influenced by emotion was automatically invalid.

I also had a chance to deeply study theology and realized a lot of my religion was not well-represented in conservatism. Yes, free-will, following a higher calling, and respecting life was traditionally conservative. But social justice and community are huge to Catholicism. It left me conflicted, to say the least.

I saw that rules, reason, and logical philosophy were all compatible with more liberal beliefs. I was finally open to the possibility that the right isn’t by default, right. While I was still conservative, I decided I didn’t belong to any political affiliation. I also took up shooting as a hobby. This was my “feed, clothe, and arm the poor!” phase.

Naturally, to someone who loves rules and conformity, I went for a stint in the military. I was honorably discharged very early for an unexpected physical defect and was again miserable. I spent a few years avoiding Church and questioning God. I had no idea what to do because all my life plans went awry, and I wanted a job. I fell into a master’s program in social work. And I attended a liberal, Californian university.

One classmate was basically a caricature of me. He felt as if one poor person can invent something and make it rich and start a dynasty, they all should be able to do it. No matter how many times the class addressed how this is an unrealistic and unfair expectation, he just continued. Watch, feel confused, and repeat with all the hot-button issues.

For example, when liberals defend unauthorized immigrants, they make a point of what good people they are or the benefit they bring to their communities. This will not sway a conservative’s point of view, because as I said about myself, we’d view a broken role as a broken role. And rule breaking shouldn’t be allowed or go unpunished.

In several classes with this guy, I was basically watching myself as we argued over this point in circles. Finally, I realized to end this cycle I needed to show my ignorance and I asked, “why do so many people come illegally?” Some people in the class had first-hand experience immigrating and shared their (very negative) experiences with us. I think this was when a switch was finally flipped inside me.

I had done everything right. I got good grades, I followed the law, I even went on to serve my country. But I had bad luck. That bad luck spiraled for years, and soon I found myself on Medicaid and other government assistance. And the conservative loved ones in my life were highly critical of me, even while knowing I was a hard worker who exhausted all her options.

I had always lived based on the assumption that cause and effect were occurring at an individual level. My actions would cause my results. But my own experience was screaming at me that luck was a bigger factor. That the system I was stuck in was keeping me stuck. Why the hell did it take until now for me to finally get it?

I remember one teacher who clearly had a lot of love for her job and shared that with her students. I never would have changed my mind if she had been attacking this kid and his beliefs. Her loving, open, and patient attitude really allowed me to explore. She never did convince that kid 100 percent… but she converted me.

As I look back on my life, I see that every bit of bullying, racism, nationalism, and anti-liberalism was deeply rooted in defense mechanisms. At least where I go (both in real life and online) people blindly assault the morality of those with conservative beliefs. If I’m pro-life I’m sexist, if I’m against a minimum-wage I hate poor people, if I’m pro-border security I am racist.

It was all too similar to “If you like video games, you’re a lesbian. If you don’t paint your nails and do your hair, you’re a witch.” (Or is that reversed? I don’t know, when I asked for their reasoning they called me fat.) I was so used to being treated cruelly and unfairly that I internalized it. It became a knee-jerk reaction to feel like a victim for so long that when I finally saw someone roll with a disagreement rather than insult my character, I was completely disarmed.

This is actually a big part of social work practice, as I grew to learn. You “roll with resistance” and “start where the client is at”. This aligns well with my religious beliefs as well, as this is how you love your neighbor and follow the golden rule. I was finally living in a way that was true to myself, and I actually felt like I was flourishing.

Regardless of what side of the conversation you fall on, everyone knows someone on the “wrong side” that they can’t just cut out of their lives for whatever reason. I had a lot of doubts about writing this article, for instance. Because I lived one way for so long and then switched, I feel constant conflict among groups of people who are, for better or worse, a part of me.

When you love those people, you worry. You worry about what others would think of you for associating with them. You worry something stupid they say will go viral and their lives will be ruined. You worry about their soul. You just worry and feel conflicted and get exhausted from the mental acrobats it takes to balance your love for them and your hatred for what they do.

Or they could be someone you’re forced to work with, live next to, etc. Well, the good news is that it’s healthy to have your beliefs questioned and evaluated from time to time. Keeping pure circles only creates extremism. And you want to be better than them, don’t you?

The most recent stressor in my life was my son’s first birthday party. I had work colleagues, friends, family, neighbors, everyone coming. Because it was happy day! And I deserved a big party. But the days leading up to it I panicked about what kind of battleground I had assembled.

Of course, no one discussed politics that I know of; everyone had a great time because I throw awesome parties. At Carnival de’ Scrivener, everyone had babies to watch, games to play and puzzles to solve. (Did you know some escape rooms actually travel?) Everyone was working together beautifully. No one knew they stood so ideologically opposed to people they were having so much fun with. Every person who loves me and my family is a better human than I gave them credit for. Even so, I’m going to avoid mixing groups for a while for my own mental health.

I have set boundaries that any hateful and prejudicial words will not be tolerated in my home or in my office. I am not just picking on my conservative associates here, because in the heat of the moment everyone says things they really shouldn’t. But I am not always hosting.

I do voice that I disagree, because I know silence is not a good thing. I do redirect, as a fight with two on one would do more to reinforce their beliefs than to dispel them. I focus and then expand on whatever it is we do agree on.

It is the lowest common denominator. I do it in my work with dysfunctional families to give them a common ground and redirect their energy toward something productive. And honestly, if you’re on this planet right now, you are part of a very big, very dysfunctional family.

I am very motivated to — like always — follow my rules no matter how difficult. I will see the humanity in everyone, even during such inhumane times. If I lose patience and feel I will fall short of this, I will exit the situation. I will always have hope, keeping the door open for the best possible outcome. Even if I’m not waiting around by that door.