What Does Being A Liberal Person Mean? (Apolitical Answer)

When many people think of liberal versus conservative, they don’t have the original uses of these ideas in mind. They think of political affiliations and government entities. Though these are sometimes informed by liberal and conservative points of view, they are actually simple byproducts. So, what does it really mean to be a liberal person?

A liberal person means someone that strives to take all perspectives into account when deciding or acting. The pure liberal person will not see truth as mere preference, but as reality outside of ourselves. An honest liberal would state that we all simply disagree on how to reach that truth.

Seeing that our focus is on helping parents raise healthy, happy, and productive children, here I will focus on how being a liberal person in extreme can be disastrous and in moderation a benefit. In order to teach our kids to respect truth and human dignity we first need to understand the perspective of those telling us what those words mean.

What Is The Meaning Of A Liberal Person Or Liberal Minded?

In essence a liberal person is someone that follows liberal ideals, though many don’t understand what those are and that they have changed drastically over the past few generations. So, what is the meaning of a liberal person?

A liberal person a few centuries ago meant someone that advocated for freedom of thought and action in every person within the boundaries of the common good. Today, extreme iterations of its morphed state are more akin to anarchy where rules don’t apply in spite of the common good.

To be fair, not all liberal minded people today go by these newer modernist definitions of liberalism. Yet, it is becoming more and more common.

The Modern Liberal Mind

Truth is seen as a preference and up to the whims of each individual. Truth becomes a whim. It is not outside of human will, but a product of it. This becomes a breeding ground for the rights, property, and freedoms of others to be trampled in the name of justice.

This type of justice again, is not the view of justice Plato, Aristotle and many other ancient philosophers would have had.

The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.


Traditional Liberalism

True liberal thought is an amazing counterbalance to those prone to scrupulosity (an extreme version of being scrupulous). This is the tendency of some to over-regulate actions and so narrowly define right vs wrong that most people end up on the side of bad or evil.

The liberal person would stand up for differing interpretations and respect the viewpoints of all concerned, but with the real understanding that the truth of any matter lies outside of all people involved and their wishes. The good in a thing can be disagreed upon, but doesn’t change simply because there is a disagreement.

The Trap Of Extremism

Extreme views like those of the scrupulous person would only take their viewpoint as true and the extreme liberal person would say no viewpoint is valid so they become the de facto decision maker. Both extremes are a disservice to the healthy tension that had always existed between liberal and conservative points of view.

Both polar opposites end up in tyranny. The true liberal person would be willing to stand along side of the conservative in the tension between allowing everyone to choose their own path and the need to set boundaries on those choices.

What Is The Opposite Of A Liberal Person?

I know, I know. This is a political satire. But J.P. is really good at poking fun at one side while slyly doing the same to the other.

When answering the question, “What is the opposite of a liberal person?” it is important to understand which version of liberal you are referring to. Is it the original version that advocated for freedom and justice, but within boundaries of moral and communal truth? Or is it the version that allows for any choice no matter the cost to decency and others?

The opposite to traditional ideas of a liberal person is a conservative person. Originally both held that there is a truth that we all seek outside of our experiences. The conservative noted the absoluteness of its existence while the liberal cautioned that our perspectives on it are all limited.

Where a liberal person could fall into the trap of believing that truth is relative, the conservative would ground the discussion in the observation and experiences of trillions of people from the past that attest to its absolute existence. The counterbalance here is crucial to stave off those that tend toward selfish coercion of their particular leanings.

Liberals are opposite of conservatives for good reason. Truth is so much higher than ourselves that we tend as humans to mistake our own perspective on it for truth itself. Liberal thought would remind us of our utter insignificance in the universe and call us to a realistic understanding of our limited grasp of that absolute truth.

Liberals of a former time would have held to an absolute truth right along side of conservatives and they would have stood side by side in striving toward it. Today, there is an extreme liberal view that there is no absolute truth.

The problem here that conservative people try to stand against is an extreme irrationality. This is a self refuting proposition. The conservative person would then ask, “Are you absolutely sure?”

Why Did Being Liberal Change In Recent Generations?

The idea of being liberal used to mean taking all perspectives into consideration and using prudential judgements to decide actions to take. It was a counterbalance to strict dogmatism. Yet, today it has moved far afield from those roots and become a banner held high for unreasonable measures in the effort to include all ideas, even invalid ones.

The liberalism many follow today began its shift as the ideas of Western culture founded on Greek philosophy and Catholic moral teaching began to erode. The passions and a new form of hedonism slowly took its place, where the greatest good is subjective pleasure and the absence of pain.

We know following our passions is not true even at the level of our daily routines. We understand that shots are good for children even though the pain is initially felt. We know that the toil of practicing the piano, painting, or the martial arts will one day lead to the satisfaction brought by proficiency.

The liberal mind underwent an illogical transformation instigated by the passions which elevated the will above reason.

Again, not all those claiming the moniker of ‘liberal’ subscribe to these sorts of extremes, but since the 1970s even these moderate more traditional liberal people, if being honest will admit to seeing the rise of this form of liberalism.

Gone are the days of slight differences between ideologies being debated. Today there are great gulfs between those holding to a traditional view of modesty, courtesy, justice, and morality and those wishing to render all of those things inapplicable.

It is up to us as parents to give our kids a balanced view of what it means to be a liberal person, a classical liberal person. If we do that, conservatives and liberals will not be that far apart (as long as parents wanting their children to be conservative do the same).

How To Teach Our Kids To Be Liberal Minded In Moderation

There are some things to consider when we are wanting to teach children to have open minds and see things from the perspective of others. Let’s look at a couple of them here.

Children And Selfishness

As a teacher of children of all ages for three decades in an environment built around discipline, I can tell you: in children selfishness is king. There is one thing you can count of the majority of the time from the vast majority of young children. They will put themselves first in some way.

Sharing to many children means, give it to me. Though you may believe they are using the word the way you are, generally they are not.

This selfishness as well as undeveloped cognitive abilities and younger stages makes it very hard for them to learn to see something from someone else’s perspective. Even in teen years you can see them having a hard time doing things for the rightness of the thing. It is usually for how it makes them feel or look to others.

The best way to overcome this is to show them rather than simply telling them to keep in mind the multiple ways a situation can be viewed. It is also very important to relate the classical liberal view that there is a truth, but that our paths to it can vary.

Grey Vs Black And White In Liberal Thought

Many falsely believe that a liberal mindset will always defer to the grey areas rather than a black or white decision. This is not the case in the balanced liberal view.

Teaching our kids to think liberally should follow a maxim that a college professor once gave me. To be honest, he probably got it from his professor and so on. But here goes…

Be sure to always keep an open mind, but not so much that your brain falls out.

Dr. Robert Debelack, Lee University

There has to be a tension, he would admonish, between one side and the other. This doesn’t speak to the truth we are trying to find, but our journey as we try to get there. The truth doesn’t change, but we certainly do.

The grey areas are sometimes where we end up until we find our way to the black and white. It is not the goal, but sometimes part of the journey. Another important concept that both liberal people and conservative people need to keep in mind is this…

  • We get to decide what we believe, but not what is true.
  • We get to react to facts, but not bring them into existence ourselves.

Here is an example…

  • Since we haven’t measured it ourselves, we believe what scientists say when they tell us the moon is 238,900 miles from the earth.
  • We know it is daylight outside because the sun is shining, but we don’t make it daylight because we believe it is.

Teaching kids that everything is relative is a disservice to true liberalism and their faithful counterparts found in conservatives. We may never get to the exact truth of a matter and end up having to settle for the grey areas, but that is never the goal.

Life just works out that way sometimes.

What Is The Meaning Of A Liberal Family?

Here we will have to take a departure from a balanced positive view of liberalism because of how the term liberal family is used in common speech. It is important to note that saying you have a liberal family will not mean the same thing as being a liberal person. So, what does a ‘liberal family’ mean?

A family that is considered liberal usually refers to parents that have not set firm boundaries for their children’s actions. This may not be the original meaning, but it is what will commonly be thought when a family is considered liberal. Bad behavior and trouble usually follow.

Though people with a conservative viewpoint can also have loose control over their children, liberal ideology in general leads to less restrictive boundaries. This manifests as misbehavior at least according to those viewing a family from outside. This leads to the designation of families with misbehaving children as ‘liberal families’.

Could this be a label given to parents that teach their children to be open minded and consider all points of view in a given situation. Sure, but that is not normally is what is meant by the name.

The Meaning Of A Liberal Person Takeaway…

Here I have not been speaking on a political, but a personal liberalism. This worldview has undergone some tremendous changes in the past few hundred years.

Gone are the days that a liberal minded person could support defending a community with lethal force if necessary or setting moral boundaries for a group founded on objective criteria. Again, this is not for all liberally minded individuals. Many people are more complex than we give them credit for in statements and articles like these.

The point here is to note that liberal as a category is not hedonism or only a cousin of conservatism, but to state that liberal people at their core are not really that far away from conservative ones until noncrucial issues are blown out of proportion.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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