Even for progressives, being “conservative” is not necessarily a bad thing. A great many of us are conservative in at least some ways. Maybe we don’t like to try new foods, or we have some routines we really don’t want to change.
And this type of conservatism doesn’t necessarily match up with our political affiliation. My late step-dad (the good one, the one who kinda sorta shared in a Nobel Peace Prize) was a diehard Democrat and quite progressive for his time politically, but personally he was, shall we say, set in his ways. It’s possible that his lifestyle conservatism gave him the sense of background stability that let him be more open to new ideas for making the world a better place, and for living and working in places very unlike his Midwestern origins.
In contrast with this lifestyle conservatism, there’s also what we might call social or political conservatism. This worldview is focused on preserving institutions and traditions, and this is what we usually mean by conservatism. These folks want the security of knowing that things will continue to be how they expect them to be. But that’s not realistic. Things do change!
(And before we go any further, let me note that the “turn back the clock” mentality associated with Donald Trump and his followers is not what I’m talking about. Some political scientists call that mentality “radical conservatism” – these folks very much want change. True conservatives emphatically do not.)
Given that change is unavoidable, what are our realistic options for encouraging conservatives to make their peace with it?
Recently I was rewatching one of my favorite BBC mini-series, Cranford, based on the novel of the same name (and several shorter works) by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gaskell. Her books helped open people’s eyes to the human costs of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, and she’s also known for being good friends with Charlotte Brontë.
Cranford isn’t like her “heavier” novels. It’s a sympathetic and often humorous look at life in a cozy village where ongoing sameness is a virtue. And yet, things do change. People come and go, loved ones die, technology advances.
This time while I watched the show, I realized that Gaskell was showing us different ways that even the most conservative people can begin to accept new ways of doing things.
1. When the change is obviously and indisputably for the best. Jem Hearne, a carpenter, falls from a tree and suffers a nasty compound fracture of his arm. Standard medical practice would be to remove the arm – but even if Hearne survived the surgery, he would no longer be able to work. A newly arrived Continue reading