SSFS: Through the Eyes of a Conservative

Eddie Mikkelson, Staff Writer

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As the end of my high school career looms, I, like many others in the same boat, have been reflecting on my experiences here at Sandy Spring Friends School. It would seem nearly impossible to reflect on this past year without thinking about the political culture of the school. Surely, this has been a political year. While everyone has varying opinions, it is clear that SSFS is a very left-leaning community. Often times it seems that the other side may go unheard, or even demonized. One thing I wish to leave behind before I leave this community is my perspective of attending this school as a conservative. I spoke with Tom Harrison, SSFS’s chemistry teacher, who offered me his own unique perspective of being a conservative teacher in this community.

Rarely do people ask what it actually means to be a conservative. I asked Tom about what he believes conservatism means. He explained, “I believe that we shouldn’t spend money that we do not have, either individually or as a nation. I believe that we should allow people to choose what they want to do, but hold them accountable for those choices. I believe it is better to allow people to freely choose, rather than require certain conduct. I believe that the appropriate role for government is to provide protection services (like police, fire protection, and the military), to regulate when it is absolutely necessary (to protect the common interest where that may run counter to the individual interest), and to get out of the way of people living their lives as they see fit. For that reason, I believe smaller government is better government.”

From my own perspective, I tend to agree with Tom’s sentiments. To me, as a student, being a conservative means placing a high value on individual liberties and responsibility, free market solutions to problems, and general deregulation. In short, I believe that conservatives generally just want to be left alone to be free to live and let live. Luckily for me, SSFS has always been a place where I have felt free to explore my interests, which has cultivated my love for learning. While I may not always agree with what others are saying, I am always grateful for a community in which dialogues may occur, and I have found that being surrounded by people with whom I may disagree, and engaging with them in a discussion, is a vital aspect of learning. Tom expressed similar views when asked about whether or not his political views affected the way he views this community: “Not particularly. When I arrived 23 years ago, I knew that the community had rather liberal views, and that hasn’t changed except perhaps to become more liberal. I have found that people who are willing to listen are remarkably accepting of me, even when I disagree with their particular viewpoint.”

In the wake of our latest presidential election, I have noticed a surge of tension between the two sides of the political spectrum. People in this community have become increasingly emotional about political issues and they occur with increased frequency. I asked Tom if he also noticed any changes in the community since the election: “The one change I’ve noticed that has bothered me the most is a change in national politics that has carried over to many people here. Specifically, it has become routine to believe the political hyperbole spouted by many politicians that if someone disagrees with you they must be evil and hate the people you are trying to help (or, to use a more recent example, anyone who wants to do away with Obamacare MUST want to deprive people of health care and want people to die, especially the poor and the elderly). It used to be that people could have different ideas about how to solve a particular problem, and both sides would believe that the other side were good people who had different ideas. The two sides would work toward finding a solution that both sides could agree on. That was bipartisanship. Recently, bipartisanship has meant ‘you agree to do what we want and we can work together. Otherwise you are being a bad person.’”

The way I see it, the key to connecting people from both sides of the aisle is to open a dialogue in the first place. Often times it seems easier to simply dismiss the other side as evil and therefore not worth talking to. I find this line of thinking troubling because I believe that discussion is essential for a strong community with a diversity of thought. How can we find common ground with those whom which we disagree? Tom lays it out for us: “We can start by not believing that those who disagree with us are evil. There are evil people in the world, but not nearly so many as we might think. Then, we should listen to what they say and honestly examine whether that might work better. It is surprising how much I have learned by listening to different ideas.”

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6 Comments

6 Responses to “SSFS: Through the Eyes of a Conservative”

  1. Henry on May 23rd, 2017 10:12 am

    Beautifully written, every word is true. We need to learn to see each other as people, not as parties meant to hate each other.

    [Reply]

  2. Breezy on May 23rd, 2017 10:16 am

    This is the Truth. I believe in being open to other people’s opinions, everyone should be more independent rather than affiliate with a particular party. Things are getting awfully political and in order to make progress, individualism is important.

    [Reply]

  3. Eduardo Polon on May 25th, 2017 4:31 pm

    Kudos! Indifferent of personal opinion, I found this article to be very thoughtfully written. Well done.

    [Reply]

  4. Steff Kerr on June 1st, 2017 9:45 am

    I really appreciated your article! It was very thoughtful and well written. My hope is that this community will always be a place you consider home. You will be missed.

    [Reply]

  5. Ariel Garfield on June 1st, 2017 11:12 am

    While I may disagree with some conservative points, I agree with the author on the importance of speaking your mind, even when you’re the minority. Differing opinions are a great start to discussions that can lead to change in the community and on a larger scale

    [Reply]

  6. Taylor on June 4th, 2017 10:48 am

    Very well written, I agree with the author when he says “disscussion is essential for a strong community with a diversity of thought”. Discussion is a big part and when talking about differences the feeling of being uncomfortable comes up and I think it’s ok to feel this way because sometimes , this feeling helps the community grow together and become stronger.

    [Reply]

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