human values

Conservatives and Liberals Share the Same Human Values

In this season of political ads, it is easy to start to feel  like the other side is idiotic, crazy, or even evil. But then a little voice tells us that maybe they are not bad people, perhaps just a little misguided. It looks like the data support your little voice.

In one of the most interesting TED talks last year Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, and author of The Righteous Mind, shows how we all (and perhaps even animals) share a common set of human values that evolved through eons of tribal development. It turns out to some degree we all want to prevent harm to others, see fairness, feel belonging in a group, have respect for authority, and appreciate purity or sanctity. The difference between liberals and conservatives lies in the how each of us personally weight each of these human values. Liberals tend to value compassion and fairness much higher than conservatives. While conservatives are more likely to value all five values about the same.

This insight explains a lot of the misunderstandings between liberals and conservatives in our politically charged world. Haidt shows how the two viewpoints become self-enforcing as we choose to live in social enclaves that reinforce our value systems—almost like building our own Matrix of reality, that only shows us what we want to see.

He suggests that we can choose the blue pill to break through this matrix and have a genuine dialogue only when we are able to avoid demonizing the other side and finishes the talk with a quote from Sent-ts’an from 700 C.E.

If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.

Good advice to carry us through the election season.