When we say that political differences basically come down to values, we are often saying there’s an unbridgeable gulf between us and people on the other side. Values are generally seen as bedrock non-negotiables, so what’s the point of even talking to the other side? And so we have the increasing polarization and breakdown of communication between Democrats and Republicans. Instead of thinking about political differences in terms of values, think of these differences in terms of priorities. Priorities are informed by multiple, often competing, goals based on multiple, often competing, values. Since multiple goals and values are involved, at least some are likely to be shared across the political spectrum. And prioritizing is not just about what we should aim for and what matters – it’s also based on assessments of urgency, opportunity, and resources (think time and money). To frame issues in terms of priorities is to appreciate a complex world.
When we talk about priorities, there’s less “either/or” thinking than when we talk about values. When we talk about priorities instead of values, there’s more room for discussion and compromise.