5 Rules for Dealing with Disagreements

Liberty activists often unfortunately struggle in working with other groups that might not agree 100% with everything we support. And this fact  is a shame, because in order for us to realize any of our goals, we have to be able to work sometimes with those who don’t share all of our goals.

Young Americans for Liberty at the University of West Florida is a very ideologically diverse group of activists. We as a club have always tried our best to reach out and integrate within the larger campus community, working alongside groups like College Republicans, College Democrats, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and others. Our campus debates were a great example of how we were able to work with other clubs in order to host exciting events that can help awaken a new political dialogue on campus. 

With that fact in mind, here are the five rules we’ve found helpful when working with people with whom we have disagreements.

1. Be Honest

Pretty much everyone knows I’m a libertarian-leaning Republican. Other YAL members are similarly forthcoming about their views. When I attend other club meetings or work with their members, I don’t make any sort of effort to hide who I am or what I believe.

Despite the unfair flak many Ron Paul Republicans have gotten throughout the past years for supposedly trying to “infiltrate” the GOP or “pretend” to be members of various establishment groups, it is important to avoid being guilty of such charges. Trying to “pull one over” on people is a bad idea. We should respect others, and we should respect our own views, enough not to try to hide what we believe.

However…

2. Don’t Be Abrasive

We’ve all seen (and to be honest, probably been at some point) the type: no conversation is safe, no situation immune, from this person’s insatiable attempts to “educate” and convert every single person into a bumper sticker-sporting Ron Paul Rothbardian (or something). And while certainly there is quite a bit of value in strongly held beliefs and the desire to share them, if we are single-minded pursuers of political converts, we won’t get very far working with others – or converting them.

Think about it this way: how would you feel if members of another group began working with YAL or other liberty organizations, but their sole interactions with others were wearying philosophical arguments aimed at changing your core beliefs? People grow and mature and evolve politically, and of course we want to spread the message of liberty, but people are unlikely to change their core beliefs because you invaded their space and argued with them.

3. Work Together Where You Can

What I have found to be the most important thing in most aspects of political life, including YAL, is to find agreements where they exist and go from there. Disagreements will arise and be difficult, but focusing on them first is a mistake. There are plenty of issues on which people from across the political spectrum can agree and work together.

Would it be great if we all agreed in the philosophical underpinnings of why ending the drug war or cutting taxes or protecting civil liberties are important? Sure. But it not necessary or even close to possible for us to turn everyone we hope to work with into a carbon copy of ourselves.

4. Remain Ideologically Sound

In working with others, of course, it is important to remember above all what YAL and we stand for. We, more than many groups, are principle-driven, a wonderful thing.

While we work often with those who we don’t agree with 100%, we must also know where to draw the line and specify—”I’m not speaking for YAL but for myself” or to clarify what the club position or the liberty position is—and stick to those ideals.

YAL stands for the free market, small and constitutional government, civil liberties, voluntary actions, in fiscal responsibility, and humble foreign policy. We are dedicated to these beliefs, and these beliefs must never be watered down or forgotten. We can and should stick to our principles.

5. Remember People Are People

Throughout all this and perhaps above all, we should remember why we do what we do. For me, as I’m sure for others, I believe that liberty is inherently valuable because it improves the lives of myself and those I care about.

People are not goals—and my friends I disagree with are still my friends. People can sense when they are not being respected, and seeking “friendships” for the sole purpose of getting someone on your side politically or getting help on your own goals is not respectful or effective.

Live your life. Love others. Fight for what you believe in. We’re all people, and everyone deserves respect. We’re changing the world. Let’s not forget to work on changing (and improving) ourselves, too.

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