The last few weeks have presented a variety of issues within the American national discourse that warrant commentary, but I’ll let that aside right now and focus on something a bit more “meta” to the situation: how, exactly, we as members of society communicate with each other.
A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook on two unrelated subjects. On the first, I stated the following:
Andy Linsenbardt wants help with a list of bands or groups worse than Coldplay. The only one I can come up with so far is LFO.
That status update started a discussion spanning 96 comments across 10 or so people. I followed it up with this:
For those that don’t want to read through the 89 comments in my previous status posting, the following was decided, after much deliberation: ICP < Nickelback < Creed < Coldplay.
On the other side of the coin, for a completely separate issue, I posted a story published by the Des Moines Register regarding abortion laws in Nebraska and how a particular couple were forced to do something they didn’t want to. The feed this post spawned went for 51 comments across 7 or 8 people.
In both of these unrelated discussions, involving many individuals of completely different ideologies, we were able to “hold it together” and not get (too) personal. We were completely capable of providing opinions without the need to tell each other that we were bad people or completely wrong (well, aside from the occasional sarcastic comment in that first thread…). For the most part, it was a respectful discussion from ranging viewpoints. On the latter discussion, I don’t think we came to anything close to a consensus, yet I feel we left more informed on the opposing viewpoints.
While the first status update was largely a “dig” at Coldplay (much-deserved…), I wasn’t thinking that I’d get nearly that many comments.
On the latter one, I kinda did, which brings me to the following point:
I think the thing missing most from the national discourse today is honesty and openness, especially from those positioned in The Middle. There are quite a few folks out there on the political ultra-right or ultra-left that have their signs waving on the picket line, the so-called “activists” you could say. These people are being very successful in pulling their ranks further and further from each other, making it appear that there is only a very distant “middle-ground” left between them.
It’s just sad when Facebook is the last bastion of reasonable discourse.
I won’t get into the abortion debate here or anything, but it’s safe to say that, aside from the folks out there with “Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life” signs going on marches, the issue is frequently ignored in the middle. I think it’s mostly out of fear, as those in the middle are afraid of being labeled one or the other, and what that may mean. It’s the kind of issue we frequently ignore in schools. Going to Lutheran and Methodist churches all my life, it’s an issue that’s frequently ignored there, as well. It just seems as if there isn’t really a middle ground in that particular debate, let alone a variety of others. People are afraid of the subject. They keep it locked away.
In a related fashion, all too often, I hear of people not wanting to say anything about politics, or about religion, or about culture, because they are afraid of offending friends of theirs, or of “getting into it” to the point where they may not end up speaking with someone for a few days (or weeks…or ever again…). These are people that don’t want to bring it up around the dinner table with their spouse, or with other family members. Those that don’t want to bring it up at work so they don’t end up getting into some kind of long argument with their co-workers. And most relevant to this particular post, those that don’t want to post anything on Facebook or other social networking sites so their friends (or future employers…) can’t see what they think about various issues.
And therein lies the problem. If people aren’t willing to defend their positions, with intelligence and respect, then those on the ultra-left and those on the ultra-right with their signs will have effectively won. They will have won by scaring those in the middle away from getting into the debate in the first place. By causing them to hide from the discussion, keeping the issue from ever reaching any kind of moderate consensus. Without a voice firmly planted in The Middle, then the opposing sides continue to pull apart with little to hold them together.
The problem is nothing new, and it exists in other instances. Case in point: Years ago, at a Wesley House float trip, I had a great conversation with a Methodist pastor I greatly respect. We were lamenting the decreasing population of Methodist campus ministries, while others were increasing in number. In his view, the other ministries were offering a more “black and white” interpretation of the world, and the Bible, while Methodists (and ELCA, and others…) were allowing for the fact that there are “greys:” that black and white weren’t the only options. The people we were trying to provide a service for weren’t interested in The Middle: they chose their extremes, likely because they wanted to be told what to think The Middle, to them, was a scary place to be, a place where you may have to question things, have to think about the world, and have to make decisions. Picking an extreme, there’s a clear-cut answer: you accept it and move on.
On a political spectrum, I technically fall center-left. I’m a Moderate, by most interpretations. But my thoughts on a variety of subjects, to some, would paint me as an ultra-leftist (because “The Middle” has been pulled more and more toward the Conservative side of the spectrum, but that’s another issue altogether…).
You can position yourself in the middle of an argument and still have strong feelings about it. It’s possible. And I try to do it all the time.