Many social issues can be likened to a pendulum, and have been by plenty of people before me; every swing of the blade in one direction leads to a swing in the other, leading popular opinion to do the same. The most classic example is the office of president, in America; the collective mind gets tired of leaning right for four or eight years, and decides to lean left for the next four or eight. We have a pretty strong history of swinging every eight years or so, especially in my lifetime; but that might just mean we get used to the devil we know, and it’s hard to break old habits even when they’re not serving us as we might have hoped.
Politics isn’t the only social pendulum that sweeps through the country on a regular basis, even if many of the other issues are generally going to fall under a red or blue umbrella. That just means folks have opinions on these issues, and those opinions group together naturally in certain instances.
This isn’t a discussion on whether the left is too idealistic to get the practical stuff done, or whether the right is too set in their ways to embrace positive change when it presents itself; these are characteristics of certain personalities, and we already know life doesn’t work if we’re all the same. This is more me wondering if maybe we could approach these issues and each other in a way that couldn’t be likened to a swinging pendulum.
After all, the purpose of a pendulum is not to swing; it is meant to cut, in tortuously tiny increments, until it has sliced the victim deeply enough to kill. I daresay that’s the last thing anybody wants for our country, while in the next breath having to admit that it kind of seems like what a lot of folks are doing. Instead of looking at both sides and finding some place in the middle that makes sense, most of the people in America can be politically categorized pretty accurately using only their address and occupation. Add race and sex into the mix, and you can pinpoint almost everyone’s leanings on nearly every issue.
Is is really that cut and dried? Is it really us against them…or more accurately, us against us? Even if there is less physical violence in our country than ever before, we seem to have offset that decline with a rise in overall rudeness. It’s almost as if removing the threat of physical violence turned a bunch of people into assholes, or gave them license to reveal they had been one all along. Either way, the result is the same.
I’m not saying an armed society is a polite society; Robert Heinlein already said that, a long time ago. I’m just saying a polite society may be a better forum in which to resolve these issues.
I mean…maybe the pendulum is the problem!
When I was younger, I had a big problem admitting I was wrong. It got in the way of me learning a lot of stuff, and I had to overcome the hangup to really start absorbing new information and acquiring new skills; as you might guess, I was wrong about pretty much everything when I was young. It’s a common symptom of youth, after all. Putting aside the need to be right immediately really opened up a lot of doors.
I still need to be right, about a lot of things; but I approach that need from another angle. I gather a lot of information now before drawing most of my conclusions. Now I delight in someone pointing out something I don’t know, and I have made it a habit to thank people on a regular basis for doing so.
Those conversations couldn’t have happened to a younger me. I was more into arguing my point of view than considering others, and more interested in making anyone who disagreed look like an idiot. Rather than say I have evolved beyond this issue completely, I will say that I have seen it work both ways plenty of times. I think it also sort of qualifies me to understand this approach when I see others take it. Again, I won’t say I’m better than anyone using these tactics; but I will say it’s a lot easier to have a productive discussion when they are set aside.
When we go into every conversation with a healthy respect for others, we are able to see other points of view without feeling as though they are some kind of threat to our own perspective. We can listen to how others see the world without assuming they should think just like we do, and we might even change our minds by letting in information that otherwise could not penetrate our thinking. That’s called growth, and we all have plenty of it to do; but we can’t grow when we leave respect out of the equation, and we can’t use a closed mind to gather the information required for that growth.
If an opinion exists that contradicts your opinion on something, that opinion is just as valid as your own. Reverse engineering any value can show pretty quickly how those opinions are formed, and it comes as no surprise when we realize living a different way easily leads to having different values. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes may not be nearly as persuasive as walking a lifetime in our own, but it can help us see that our path is not the only one worth walking.
That way, when it comes time to debate an issue that affects all of us, we can acknowledge first and foremost that everyone should be heard. Shutting someone down before they get a chance to speak just because they are wearing a cowboy hat or skinny jeans doesn’t really promote social progress in the same way open discussion does. But that discussion has to be polite, and respectful, if it’s going to lead to anything we can truly call social progress.
But the other side is unreasonable, right? Well, let them be. The last thing you’re going to change is a mind determined to be set in its ways, even if that mind is your own. Just make sure all that defensive posturing isn’t the other side still reeling from a bunch of blows it took from your side before, and that seeing things from their perspective has absolutely no benefit, before you walk away. Also, remember that you want your views to be considered and respected…so respect theirs, even if you can’t be bothered to consider them.
If any one of us were put in charge of everything, and got to tell everyone else how to live, each of us would screw it up in our own unique way. Some of us might have a few big fans amongst those being ruled, but those with the biggest fans would also have the most detractors. That’s just how it works: if you are going to stand for something, you automatically stand against something else. You don’t have to fight it, but you do have to stand against it.
And if you must fight it, you can always do so with class. You can find people who disagree with you, listen to them express their views, reframe their perspective to them in your own words until they agree that you really get it, then ask if they want to hear the other side. If they say no, you can move on to the next reasonable debate knowing you did your part. Or, you can just leave well enough alone and see the value in living peacefully in a world where everyone is not exactly like you.
Instead of swinging wildly on important issues, like the country tends to do, we might all do well to take a step back before engaging. The fact that these are emotional issues for us should indicate that they’re emotional issues to others as well; and the fact that there are other ways to look at it should in itself remind us that every point of view is as valid as our own. If we want to be considered, we might do well to approach others with consideration.
Unless they’re being a real blowhard. Then, you should really let ‘em have it. Call them awful names, insult their intelligence, and go to great lengths to berate them in every way you can. You can always be nice to someone tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,