a radical, messy “a-ha”

I had a bit of an “a-ha” this week. I think I finally figured it out. 

In recent years, the reasonable among us have sensed an increasingly significant problem with the polarized ends. Respect has wavered; the rancor has intensified. The far left/far right no longer see any good in the other.

“How did America get this way?” chided Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. “Partisans have a simple answer: the other side has gone nuts!” 

(Insert LOL here…)

And just like that the polarized ends point the finger at someone other than self. Partisans do it. Administrations do it. Unfortunately, the elementary prudence repeatedly conveyed by our parents that “you-own-up-to-what-you-do” hasn’t filtered up to way too many partisans and politicians. It’s simply easier to blame someone else. Them.

A frequent Intramuralist conversation has focused on the damage of the adult finger pointing. But my “a-ha” this week more centered on the why…

Why is there a problem with the polarized?

As much as I cringe actually admitting such — not wanting to fuel either of the opposites’s heedless, hell-bent fire (aka points of view) — most likely the far left and far right may each have a sensible approach on some, maybe very few things. For let’s admit: even a stopped clock is right twice a day (as I was also oft reminded in elementary school).

Both the far left/far right make excuses for protests/protestors they like. Both make excuses for gerrymandering that works in their favor. Both make excuses for borrowing and spending massive amounts of money. Both, in other words, make excuses.

Ok. Got it. I hear you; you’ve heard this before here. But what’s new to me this week is why this matters. I mean, it’s ok to be passionate. It’s ok to have strong feelings. There are many convictions I, also, strongly adhere to.

But when we only adhere to a far left or far right perspective — and believe only the others have gone nuts — why is that a problem? What’s the value in the middle?

We’ve heard some insightful descriptions of that middle… “the radical middle”… “the messy middle”… In truth it isn’t all that radical, and it doesn’t need to be so messy. I think it’s just that the extremes are really, really loud, and they’d like to convince us there is no wisdom or reason in hanging out in someplace other than a polarized, isolated camp. They’d like to convince us that the other side is so dangerous… and they, of course, are the only solution to save us from the ills and evils of the other.

They, my friends, entirely miss what the middle provides.

Hear me here…

The middle is where shared experience takes place.

(Feel free to read that again.)

From author, renowned business strategist and executive trainer, Bryan Kramer: “A shared experience is exactly what it sounds like: seeing, hearing, or doing the same thing as someone else. Although it’s a simple concept, shared experiences have a deep impact on human socialization because they enhance each person’s individual experience… Shared experiences are powerful because they bring people together…”

The middle, friends, is where we learn about other people. And not just a select, isolated few.

On the fringe — on those polarized opposites where we justify the protests/protestors, gerrymandering, massive spending and the like — they aren’t learning about most of the people; with all due respect, they’re only learning about people who already think like them.

I know this isn’t easy. It’d be far easier to camp in a polarized place; it’s comfortable there. I no longer have to consider whose wants and needs I’m ignoring when I remained firmly entrenched on a polarized fringe. And no doubt, the pandemic exasperated the entire scenario, as our isolation only increased. But that doesn’t make it wise.

Shared experience is wise. It expands our thinking. It makes us aware of the understandable differences of opinion — even passionate differences. But while differences of opinion are society’s reality, division — intentional polarization and the thinking of others as nuts — is a choice. That choice is a lot harder make in the middle.