Bhakts vs. Non-Bhakts — A View on Conservative vs. Liberal Caring

I’ve had friends who have been extremely ‘right’ bent, as they say. Lefts and Rights are perhaps western terms that I don’t fully understand so won’t build on that, but all of us know to an extent what I’m talking about. Closer home, it can be seen as Bhakts vs. Non-Bhakts.

It’s not like you’ll just wake up one day and end ur friendship with someone you realise is a ‘Bhakt’. You might even find that they are perhaps caring friends and loving partners. But then, something just doesn’t click; whenever you try to speak to them on some topic, they take such strong, harsh, one-sided views, which they are absolutely not ready to change.

I wondered often, that how can someone so caring and sensitive be so ignorant as to not see the misery of so many others, perpetuated by to one or two, or maybe a handful of people? I found the answer in a reading on Morality I’d been trying to complete since last lockdown.

You must’ve chosen your friends carefully, and they must be caring individuals. The difference lies in the fact that you (or me in this case) might be displaying a moral function called ‘liberal caring’ whereas they might be displaying something called ‘conservative caring’. We both care, it’s just that people with a ‘conservative caring’ way of functioning care about, and display loyalty toward ideas or people who impact them or whom they believe are their close likes. Whereas, people who display ‘liberal caring’ display empathy and care for a wider range of people, consisting of people similar and vastly different too. Perhaps without showing ‘loyalty’ toward any particular person or group, but toward the ‘greater’ cause or the feeling of betterment for the masses. In the words of Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a Social Psychologist specialising in Morality, conservative caring, unlike liberal caring, is “not universalist; it is more local, and blended with loyalty.” An example he gave of conservative caring was of being loyal to soldiers, because they’ve sacrificed for the group (perhaps our country).

This reminded me of the rampant debate at the time of ‘Surgical Strikes’ that encompassed discussions like ‘Should India declare War?’… and I know I was debating on it with someone trying to show them the collateral damage a war would bring; whereas they supported the notion that a war should happen. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day.

So, coming back to the point, if the other person has not somewhere developed or practiced the ability of abstract and hypothetical thinking — thinking for people who’re not like themselves — it’s okay they might not be able to understand conflicting or just different views, on a larger scale. It’s better to just acknowledge this than try to change their thinking or ‘reason with them’. They’re probably not bad people, just have a different, perhaps restricted way of forming their sense of morality and judgement.
[Is religious (Hindutva) politics moral? …. Is a war to assert power moral? … Is calling rallies when thousands are losing life due to such closed gatherings moral?]

A solution to this, I’ve always felt is exposure. If you can’t imagine what it is like for the others, be with different kinds of people, ‘the others’, and understand how things affect not only the likes of you, but people vastly different too. Social psychology also points out the in-group vs. out-group dynamics and politics, and the accompanying outlook. The best way to expand this outlook is to spend time with people you don’t understand (people from the out-group), and see what impact conservatism (or religious politics) brings on to them.

At the end of the day, just remember you can’t change anyone, and it’s not your right or duty to either. If anyone wants to, it’s up to them, and they will find the way when they’re ready. And if they don’t want to, it’s up to you how you want to respond. Empower yourself, rather than the other person.

An interesting TED talk of Jonathan Haidt on the topic of Liberals and Conservatives: