November 12, 2020


Joel Nodelman

Conservatives and Progressives; 2 Opposing Views Resulting in Alarming Conflict

About the author

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

The last week, I have been thinking about the conflict between Social Conservatives and Progressives. Three things have been top of mind:

  • COVID-19;
  • Climate Change; and
  • The U.S. election.

No, I will not wade into the quagmire that is the election. Rather, I am puzzling about the sharply different views of the world held by Social Conservatives and Progressives. In particular, I worry about how these different world views translate into action, or inaction on complex issues.

Conservatives and Progressives - A Continuum

I see social values as a continuum. But over the last few years there has been a decided movement to label folks based on the extreme ends of the spectrum. So, we are Progressives or Social Conservatives - Socialists or Fascists. This approach plays well in social media, but it is a poor reflection of reality.

Conservatives and Progressives - 2 Opposing Views Resulting in Alarming Conflict

Conservatives and Progressives - It Ain't Football

Folks act like each end of the spectrum paints a homogeneous picture of the values, perspectives and opinions of the other side. And the other side is always evil! As a result, social discourse has turned into a blood sport. We choose a team, put on the colours, and condemn the other team. While this may be fun, it is not productive.

Conservatives and Progressives - It Ain't Football

I am the first to admit I live and die with the triumphs and defeats of my Edmonton football team. But the sting of a loss goes away about five minutes after the game. I am happy to continue a normal, cordial relationship with my friends who made the poor choice to root for the other team.

But this tension plays out in the way we approach complex issues. We divide into teams and fight. While this may work at a football game, it is a ticket for disaster when we are trying to fix serious problems.

These things are far more complex. We need to find common ground. We need to listen to each other and find approaches that work, based on real data, scientific analysis, and cooperation.

Conservatives and Progressives - We Have More in Common Than We Think

This may sound naïve, but we can’t go on vilifying each other. That just leads to dissent, anger, and violence. And if we have any doubts about that, we only have to look as far as the racial unrest of 2020.

I met my best friend at university. He is a very conservative dude. I am not all that conservative. But our friendship has lasted 46 years based on shared experiences, our love of our school, and a long history of watching each other’s backs.

Yes, we have argued about social values over the years, but our friendship is more important than all of that. We trust each other, and while we don’t shy away from our differences, we continue through thick and thin. We have more in common than we don’t.

Conservatives and Progressives - 2 Opposing Views Resulting in Alarming Conflict

We Have More in Common Than We Think

Conservatives and Progressives - It's About Community

I view my community, neighbours and colleagues in the same way. I am unlikely to drift too far from my progressive views. But that is where we start the discussion, not where we end it. Let’s find out what we have in common and not dwell so much on where we differ.

So this week, I am making a plea for calm and the commitment to work together on solving some very complex issues. We can’t solve our problems when we are pulling in different directions.

I seek a return to fact based discussion, trust in science and expertise, and a more critical perspective on the crap shared through unfiltered social media.

2020 has been challenging, and it is showing no sign of letting up. But rather than going crazy, railing at the other team, we can get through this if we work together to find common ground.

That is my mission. Hope you can join me!

Learn About Climate Negotiation

If you’d like to read more about our research on effective climate negotiation, check out the links below. We have developed a self-directed, online course based on our work.

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