A Liberal Education

My high school graduating class had its 45th reunion last weekend. (Please don’t do the math!) I did not attend, but have enjoyed following the many photos and postings on Facebook.  I must confess that have no idea as to the identities of most of those very old people.

High school was a nightmare for me. It seemed that everyone had to be divided into categories. Then, it was “frats” or “cats.” There was also a group called “hoods”, a much tamer version of today’s gangs. You might be in a popular clique – so very cool – or some variation of loser. In those days “nerd” was still an insult, and “queer” meant “odd”, not “gay.” Everyone got a label.

I remember often being asked where I fit, but the choices were quite limited. My answer was always, “I am an individual.” Even then, shorthand designations offended me. Like Groucho Marx, I refused “to join any club that would have me as a member.”

I thought I had left high school behind so many years ago. Evidently, I was wrong. High school is an allegory for the rest of life. The categories may have different names, but they are just as limiting.

In my old life (pre-Columbus), I considered myself apolitical. I had no real interest in a candidate’s political party, or other affiliations. I voted according to their qualifications, and positions on issues. However, since moving here, I have found, once again, that I am expected to fit neatly into a labeled cubbyhole.

I have been dubbed “hippie Adele”; not accurate, but not too insulting. There are many versions of the word “crazy” that have been used to describe me: “quirky”, “offbeat”, “eccentric”, “that girl who painted her house purple” – well, you get the picture.

But, the description that is most often used is “liberal.”  Interesting, since I didn’t even know I was liberal – until I moved here. Now, I am the poster girl for liberals in the Golden Triangle. Who knew?

I am also confused as to why being liberal is a mortal sin. The actual definition is     “broad-minded: tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others, progressive politically or socially: favoring gradual reform, especially political reforms that extend democracy, distribute wealth more evenly, and protect the personal freedom of the individual (Encarta World English Dictionary).” Why is that so bad?

If the opposite is “narrow-minded: not tolerant of different views….backward….against personal freedom….” Then, who would want to be that? Evidently, many people, because, in this area, being “liberal” is treated as a pariah. It is deemed worse than breaking all of the commandments, cheating on your taxes, or (the very worst) not attending church services.

Being liberal is not a cult. It is not composed of human sheep who think exactly alike. It does not mean that all liberals hate the military, coddle criminals, and burn the American flag. It only means that some people who are considered liberal are open-minded, able to see different sides of an issue, and sometimes support the rights of other Americans, no matter whether they are a minority, living in poverty, or in some way unable to defend themselves.  Call me a liberal, if you wish. Thank you. I consider it a compliment.

I do not regret skipping my high school reunion. After all, I am much younger than those other people. But, I sincerely wish that I (and everyone else) could graduate from the need for labels. It is long past time to step out of restrictive tags, and truly become individuals, free thinkers, and actual adults.