Posted by: Jenny | November 25, 2008

Define yourself…

We often spend Monday nights with a friend of the family, and his girlfriend if she is in town.  Over the last couple of months we have had a pretty good time together.  And although most of our conversations stay within polite discussion, every once and a while, we stray over in to that liberal vs conservative hot zone.  So far it has all been in good fun, but everyonce and a while I wonder how good of friends can people become when they are at opposite ends of the spectrum, not even opposite, just not the same side?  Thinking of this made me question my personal definition of these terms we use all the time to define ourselves.  I realized that when I call myself conservative/liberal it is more of a personal definition.  Through my study of American history and the formation of my beliefs, I label both sides through my personal filter.  So being the library worker I am… I decided to do some research.

And wow, the hate and misunderstanding that the web is littered with is hard to sort through.  First I did the basic wikipedia search: Liberalism in America and Conservatism in America.  And while that is a start I wanted more.  So I consulted my colleague via Ask a Librarian.  She helped me find some basic definitions and then I did a datbase search for journal articles. The following is a quote from of  “Challenging the charge of liberal bias in the media: an editor’s response: understand our biases, act as journalists, be a watchdog of the powerful.” by Mike Riley (full citation below)

“What do we really mean when we utter the words “conservative” and “liberal?” Are these words really as bad as everyone seems to think they are? The word “liberal” finds its root in the Latin liberalis, or liber, which means free. Webster’s New World College Dictionary offers this definition, among others: “Favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual; progressive.” Given that cast, liberal sounds more like a concept the Founding Fathers would embrace rather than a description of some clan of pointy-headed evildoers who are regularly excoriated on talk radio.

Maybe being called “liberal” isn’t as bad as it seems.

Examine the roots of the word “conservative.” It comes from the Latin conservativus and is defined as “tending to preserve established traditions or institutions and to resist or oppose any changes in these.” It’s about protecting and preserving the fundamental values of what is right with the world. That doesn’t seem so bad, either.

It requires a little deeper digging to figure out what the fuss is all about. If conservative means protecting the established order and liberal means challenging that order, then the conflict is between preservation vs. change or tradition vs. reform. So it’s a power struggle about who controls the future. The forces of change or the forces of tradition? No wonder people get their underwear so tight in the liberal vs. conservative tug of war.

I think that it was worth my while to look up some definitions to words and labels we hear tossed about all the time.  The label I apply to myself hasn’t changed, but at least now I understand it better.

(Riley, Mike. “Challenging the charge of liberal bias in the media: an editor’s response: understand our biases, act as journalists, be a watchdog of the powerful.” Nieman Reports 57.2 (Summer 2003): 110(3). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Kansas State University Libraries. 25 Nov. 2008


  1. Nice citation.

  2. WOW! I’m so glad to see education at work and yes I am a liberal and no it isn”t so bad to be either.

  3. WOW! I’m so glad to see education at work and yes I am a liberal and no it isn’t so bad to be either.

  4. Yeah, I still don’t get it but maybe because I don’t identify with either – I’m just not hardcore. Thanks for getting me thinking….

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