The elephant in the room

Among other deeply instilled habits I’ve developed as a socially-anxious introvert, I make a point of not sharing my political opinions. Somewhere in the midst of the chaotic depression of high school, I found myself a political outsider in my liberal home state of Massachusetts. I was convinced I would certainly become a victim of political violence upon arrival to the so-called leftist hordes of university, a fear ignited by the countless riots in response to conservative speakers at colleges across the country. There’s a misconception in conservative circles that there is no need for safe spaces. However, with the prevalence of violent polarization and the social precedent it sets, everyone needs a sanctuary among the mayhem, conservatives included.

My concerns are perhaps overwrought, but I never got over the lingering fear that the outing of my political beliefs would sever ties with those who love me the most. This fear was only amplified during the 2016 American presidential primaries, when my mother made an uncomfortable habit of pointing out my support for Republican candidate John Kasich to my extended family. This was often met with the well-meaning but overtly-patronizing remark that, surely, I was just mistaken. When my grandfather passed away, I was haunted by the idea that, had I spoken out about my politics when he was alive, he would have had a similar reaction.

Politics has a way of breaking the boundaries of unconditional love. Beyond unfriending Facebook friends with opposing political opinions after elections, the experience of being cut off from one’s family as a result of divergent political views has too often become a reality. As American Thanksgiving looms, so do the articles on how to cope with a loved one being a Trump supporter. As politics are increasingly viewed as synonymous with morality and values, splitting from family members with differing political opinions seems to have materialized as an ethically-viable position. Dehumanizing Republicans has become both morally acceptable and the progressive norm.

The theoretical gap between moral values and stances on government policies is often neglected. Believing in something universal, such as wanting to help others, means different things for different people in the realm of politics. Being for or against gun control does not affect the general stance that mass shootings are abhorrent and unnecessary tragedies. Regardless of political beliefs, most people ultimately want the best for themselves and those they love.

It’s hard for people to separate arguments and ideas from the individuals pronouncing them. People avoid open debates because of their uncomfortable tendency to strain relationships. In the predominantly centre-left university context, this affects who chooses to speak up, and, at a more fundamental level, who feels safe to do so.

After two years at McGill, I have found environments in which open debates are both appreciated and encouraged. Events at McGill such as Freedom Week, run by the Institute for Liberal Studies, supplies a long series of lectures on libertarian topics and is open to undergraduate and graduate students of various political leanings. I’ve also found clubs such as Conservative McGill, as well as friends with similar views. Finding those groups has given me the confidence that I never thought I would have to speak out in class and conferences. For our emotional well-being, we all need a place to feel at home.

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