Ask people who vote Republican what values guide their political beliefs, and you will get a quick, clear answer: Small government. Lower taxes. Free markets. Individual liberty. Strong traditional families. Ask people who vote Democratic the same question, and maybe they’ll mention a specific issue–public schools, money in politics–but you won’t hear any statement of broad, guiding values.
Mike McCabe wrote about this phenomenon in his latest Blue Jean Nation blog post, and I’ve seen it, too. One of my hobbies is studying political conversation–how people talk politics with one another–and I’ve learned that being explicit about our values is a powerful first step to productive political conversation. So I’ve asked many people: “What values shape your political choices?”
Try it; you’ll hear the same as McCabe and I do. Conservatives fluently put their guiding principles into words; everyone else, not so much. Progressives start listing individual issues.
Talking about values, however, is a surprisingly easy political conversation. Everyone has values; without them, we are inert, we prefer nothing over anything else. And talk of values rarely deteriorates into a fight, because most people realize that deeply held values are not subject to debate. They are what they are.
But before asking anyone else–in fact right now–put your own values into words. Stop reading this, close your eyes, and decide what you’ll say when someone asks you “What do you value?”
At its formation, the South Central Grassroots Alliance adopted a values statement, which reads, in part:
We value government of, by, and for its human citizens, and we work peacefully and constructively to protect it from those ever-present few who seek to exercise power over us without our consent. We believe governments should actively serve the purpose for which free men and women created them, which is to promote and protect the opportunities and rights of every living individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
McCabe offered his values statements:
- Freedom with responsibility. Each individual has a right to be free. But with that right comes an obligation to make sure others are free as well.
- Democracy, both political and economic. Both our political system and our economy should be of the people, by the people, and for the people.
- Equality. We are all created equal, with inalienable rights. No one starts at third base.
- Caretaking. This means looking out for one another, and having each other’s back. It means taking care of the land and water and air.
- Service. To community. To country. To each other.
Now you. What do you value?
Put your values into words, and start telling people. The more of us who can do that, the better we’ll be able to start heading in that direction.