Emily Huhman: Becoming a liberal after growing up as a conservative

Thursday, October 26, 2017 - 3:40pm

I have very fond memories of sitting in the living room with my family, watching Bill O’Reilly on the television. It was part of my conservative, libertarian and Republican family’s routine. I quickly became interested in the political issues Bill O’Reilly talked about on his program and wanted to learn more, believing the information I’d find would affirm the conservative viewpoints that surrounded me.

The exact opposite occurred. After researching various issues by reading countless sources, I realized that my viewpoints aligned those of mainstream liberals rather than the conservatives I had previously thought were correct.

I soon became a liberal in a conservative family. In the inevitable political conversations I had with my family, I had to defend the liberal views I eventually developed. This was difficult. At first, it was difficult for me to deal with some of the views my family held. I felt that some conservative viewpoints, like the Republican Party’s pro-life stance, were offensive to me as a woman. At the same time, my family found some of my liberal viewpoints, like increasing social welfare programs, to be fiscally irresponsible.

However, my family and I were quickly able to reconcile our political views with our love for each other. This was possible through conversation, which required me to evaluate my viewpoints thoroughly. In fact, I’m grateful that I grew up the way I did, because it forced me to constantly defend my values. Now, as a college student in a divisive political climate, I can defend my views more effectively.

Here at the University of Michigan, I have been doing my best to have this same understanding with those I disagree with. While there are some views that I just cannot tolerate — including white supremacist views, homophobic or sexist rhetoric or any other type of hate speech — I try to keep an open mind when it comes to Republican or conservative viewpoints. My experience as a political minority in my family has helped me become more perceptive to opposing viewpoints.

Political ideologies are often developed as a result of a combination of research and personal experience. My identities and experiences have largely influenced my political views. This is also true for those whose identities and experiences shaped their conservative ideology. Their experiences are their own, and as a result, I cannot tell them what political views they should hold. This is why acceptance of a variety of viewpoints is necessary. Each person has their own identities and experiences that influence their ideology, and it is important to validate those factors.

Mutual respect was a big factor in creating understanding between my family and myself. I knew that my family members did not hold their more conservative viewpoints for any sort of malicious reason; they did not want to destroy the country or offend people. They simply believed that their ideology was the best route for the United States. I had to explain why I thought that liberal policies were better for the nation. These conversations created the mutual respect that was key in generating healthy relationships.

My family and I have realized that both of our divergent ideologies have valid points, which has increased mutual respect. My family respected the effort I had put into researching different issues. This type of validation helped me respect the beliefs my family held. After years of not entirely understanding the views my family holds, I realize that their views are just as thought-out as mine. As a liberal who prides herself on being open-minded, I refuse to invalidate the thought my loved ones put into their political views, and I find it necessary to keep that lesson in mind when dealing with others who hold viewpoints that I may find problematic.

This is not to say I never make assumptions about a person based on their political views. I do. However, I try my best to get past these assumptions. I strongly believe that we should welcome a multitude of opinions. Debating different aspects of an issue is the best way to solve a political problem.

I am blessed with a really loving family. I could not ask for anything better as my family supports me in my pursuits every day. I also know that my family loves me because of, not in spite of, my passion for my views. Though I realize it is much easier to respect the views your own family holds, it is possible to embrace ideological differences and conversation is necessary. I truly believe that diversity of opinion is what makes the U.S. a great country. The University should be a safe place for everyone who goes here. Doing our best to understand those we do not agree with is an important step in this pursuit.

Emily Huhman can be reached at huhmanem@umich.edu.