Last weekend as we drove through the small Bavarian-themed mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, I was reminded of an incident that took place more than twenty years ago. I was in town for the weekend to celebrate my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. All of the bridesmaids had rented a large room in a seedy motel, and we went out for dinner, drinks, and eventually, karaoke.
When six females in their early 20’s go out on the town in a tiny place like Leavenworth, it’s hard to miss. We got a ton of attention, mostly in the form of free alcohol. By the time we got to the karaoke bar, we were all a little (or a lot) tipsy. (Don’t worry, we were on foot, not in a car.)
I have limited recollection of the evening, but I do remember participating in a rousing rendition of “Summer Loving.” Then , unexpectedly, one of the girls wasn’t feeling well, and all of them followed her to the bathroom. I didn’t react quite as quickly, so I was sitting alone at the table when I was handed a microphone, and the song one of the girl’s had previously selected began playing.
The song was, “All By Myself,” by Eric Carmen (later Celine Dion).
And I sat there, by myself, forlornly singing about being all by myself.
It’s kind of how I have been feeling a lot lately.
I’m a Christian. And I’m a political moderate. I used to be further to the right, but my deepening faith and understanding of Biblical principals have pushed me left to the center. On some issues I’m over the line on the left, on some, I’m over the line on the right.
It used to be that I felt like I had a lot of company in the middle; that when push came to shove, most people didn’t hold extreme positions. The parties they voted for would produce a platform, but only the hardcore dems and republicans actually subscribed to the entire checklist of ideologies.
It was easier, then, to have spirited, but civil debate about issues.
It’s not that way anymore. The extremists on both sides have managed to pull in a lot more people, all the while pushing others to the opposite side. Those who once considered themselves moderate liberals and conservatives, now feel the need to take a stand on one side or the other.
In the past few years I’ve watched people I had previously considered to be moderates move further and further towards the ends of the spectrum. They’ve stopped listening to the other side and listen only to viewpoints that feed their extremism. They have used the behaviors and words of the other side to justify the unjustifiable.
Just this week I have been sickened to see loving, caring people make excuses for horrific behavior in the name of politics, in the name of balance. There’s been a raging competition to prove whose party is guilty of the most abhorrent actions and words.
The actions of the opposition have been used to justify things that I simply cannot believe. Since when did we start operating tit-for-tat on a societal level? We seem to have thrown out the basic rules of public decorum.
Do not confuse moderation with not having strong passionate views on things. My views are just as deeply engrained in me as those who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
I passionately believe that humanity requires us to take care of each other. Even if it’s not a religious value for you, I’m certain that, presented with circumstances requiring action to save the life of another person, most would do what they could. However, your ideology doesn’t always represent that.
That’s the problem with ideology: it doesn’t take into account what real human beings do and feel in any given situation. Most pro-choice people say they would never personally get an abortion, and definitely wouldn’t be comfortable performing one. Most people who angrily rejected Obamacare wouldn’t shrug their shoulders at a dying child who can’t afford medical care and were thrown off their insurance and say, “That sucks for you, but in this country we believe in self-sufficiency.”
And yet… the middle is becoming a very lonely place.
Last week, I got called a cynic by a conservative (who doesn’t personally know me) because I made a critical observation of the president. Me, a cynic. The person who always believes things will work out in the end, who wants the bad news first so I can move on to the good news, who has been called naïve on multiple occasions for taking people at their word and assuming the best about them.
It’s nearly impossible to make a values-based claim without it being criticized as a political statement. For example, I have great concerns about the health and well-being of our planet. Does that make me a liberal? Because the way I see it, God mandated Adam and Eve and their descendants to care for this earth. That isn’t a political agenda, it’s a moral imperative.
I think violence or threat of violence, or portrayal of violence against another human being, whether or not you disagree with them or are angry with their actions, is unacceptable. Period. For me, this is as black and white an area as you can get. It’s not okay for either side of an ideological disagreement to incite or perpetrate violence against the opposition. THIS SHOULD NOT EVEN BE UP FOR DEBATE OR DISCUSSION.
Every day the extremists get angrier and louder. Every day they demand that those who have approached these conversations with caution to “stop the fence sitting.” I am told “there is no room for compromise. Compromise means validation of their actions or views.” I am told that not going all in on one side makes me complicit with the other.
And I reject that. I reject that I don’t get to decide, issue by issue, person by person, how I feel about something and what I want to do about it.
I reject the idea that because much of the Christian church has been co-opted by the political agenda of Ayn Rand and her subscribers, I must be ashamed of my faith and stand silent as every believer is painted with the same broad brush.
I reject the idea that because I have great compassion for immigrants, refugees, and those who are persecuted for their race, ethnicity or religion, I am a snowflake who doesn’t love my country.
I reject the idea that finding common ground makes me a co-conspirator responsible for the bad actions of the party of those I have chosen not to condemn because of who they voted for.
I reject the idea that common decency, courtesy, concern for our fellow man and the planet on which we reside are political fodder, and that one side owns the rights to call themselves good while the other is evil.
I will name the evil when I see it, but I will strive for grace and mercy in my interactions because that’s what has been modeled to me by my God.
The evil I see today is hatred. I see name-calling. I see avocation of violence. I see condescension and disrespect.
You can stand up for your values without denigrating those who disagree. You can stand up for your values while continually dialoging with those from a counter-perspective. You can stand up for your values, name bad behavior, use your voice to create movement and change without sinking to the levels I have seen recently.
We are all hypocrites. We just are. We justify our own side’s bad behavior while condemning the other for the exact same offenses. And instead of owning that, we dig in our heels and double down. And then we wonder why we feel so icky all the time. Why we feel so agitated, easily offended, angry, sad. Misunderstood.
Come back to the middle. The water is fine (lukewarm, actually.) Help me be a better person by challenging me with questions that make me think, not insults that make me want to push you away (or over a cliff.) Help me see the heart behind your statements, and let me help you see the heart behind mine. I really believe it’s not too late.
(Would a cynic say that? No, so take that, Patrick!) Yeah, I know, I have a long way to go on the grace and mercy stuff.