U-Wire: Don’t judge based on political affiliation

“Very conservative.” These two words can ruin a Facebook profile. A few weeks ago, one of my friends was idly clicking through Facebook when he came across the profile of a close friend’s new girlfriend. “Very conservative?” he said, equally amused and disturbed. “Why the hell would he date a conservative?”

I’m not of the belief that Facebook identities can define a person, but it seems to me that if you do choose to judge somebody based on their Internet presence, you ought to look a bit further than their two-word political preferences. Why not scroll through their favorite books, or see if you share music tastes? The blunt disgust based on politics seemed, to me, unreasonable.

Pondering the incident, though, I realized that it was neither isolated nor unique. Political leanings have a huge impact on how we initially perceive people. All it takes to turn us off is a single controversial statement. During high school, I lost all interest when a boy told me that my commitment to activism was “cute, but naive.” I still remember the classmate who was ostracized for saying, “President Bush is awesome.”

The trend of making political snap judgments is growing, but why? It seems strange that politics has the largest potential for shock value, and that it seems to define us above all else. If we’re looking for reasons to shun possible friends, we might as well inquire into who they are as people, instead of compartmentalizing and rejecting them. Ideology can only hold so much power when it’s reduced to simplistic categories like “conservative” and “liberal.” There is enough variation within the Democratic and Republican parties that these labels are obsolete when used to define individuals. Not every Republican supports Bush’s foreign policy, just as not every liberal supported Clinton’s extramarital activity.

I’ve spoken with a number of self-identified liberals whose policy preferences had nothing in common with my own. Similarly, there are a great many people who consider the Republican party to be more in-line with some specific aspect of their beliefs – religion, say, or taxation – yet strongly disagree with a number of policies that currently fall under the “Republican” label. In a largely bipartisan political sphere, it is not only harsh but inaccurate to rely on these broad party classifications to define and describe individuals. Yet we let these simple indicators dissuade us from ever learning about these individuals. Maybe that “conservative” girl is charming, affectionate and entertaining, but it didn’t matter – her two-word title was enough to condemn her on the mere basis that it didn’t parallel our political affiliations, which are, of course, inherently superior.

The truth is, we’re getting complacent. We’re so satisfied with our ideological superiority that we reject all other perspectives. Yet if we avoid those who might challenge our opinions, how can we expect our beliefs to have any validity? If your convictions are so deeply held that you are tempted to reject somebody who doesn’t share them – if you are so uncomfortable with opposition that you instinctually and instantly reject it – if you are so insecure that you discard a potential relationship or friendship simply because somebody isn’t a mirror of your perspective – you are undermining your own beliefs. We can’t let ourselves devalue people on account of a single political category or opinion. Disagreement is fine. Debate is even better. Blind rejection is detrimental.

Moreover, this political snap-judgment trend is a strange anomaly. Most of us are unafraid to date or be friends with somebody who is of a different ethnic background or religious persuasion. What makes politics so special?

Perhaps it’s because political choices are just that – choices. You can’t choose your ethnicity or your background. Many of our religious beliefs mimic those of our parents and community, at least when we’re this young. Maybe we’re so vitriolic about politics because we’re still insecure in our own political leanings. Still, this is no excuse. We will never become more confident about politics until we learn to defend them.

That “very conservative” Facebook profile is not nearly as shameful as a profile that claims, “Every time I find out a cute boy is conservative, a little part of me dies.” Sure, it’s tempting to use humorous generalizations as political statements. Sure, they’re more amusing than a valid debate. Still, these categorizations actually devalue whatever political opinions you hold. “Very conservative” may not jive with your personal preference, but “very close-minded” is a bigger turnoff any day.