Black and White – Or More Than 50 Shades of Gray?

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Our founding fathers were clever. They tried to set up our republic in such a way that forced compromise. Still, they were also intimately familiar with actual bloody battles and that there would be clear winners and losers, and they knew how to accept those outcomes. Fast forward to our country today, with our decade (or more) attitude of “everyone’s a winner” that has created the delicate snowflakes we refer to today as the Millennials (though truthfully, the snowflake syndrome affects more than just our younger generations).

Look, we all have our opinions about government and its various duties (at least those who visit this website do) and some of us – from all political angles – feel very strongly about those convictions. Everyone thinks their positions on most topics (which is often dictated to them by social media) are the only correct stances. The strength of opinion of someone who fears fracking will pollute drinking water or cause earthquakes can be just as strong as the person who is pro-fracking because their family is wallowing in poverty and fracking companies will bring much-needed jobs. We all believe our opinion is the correct stance and we want to fight tooth and nail to persuade others to that opinion, and if we can’t, we become dismissive. I will admit bias here and say that it has been my experience (as someone employed in the arts at a university) that this attitude of “my way or the highway” is rampant among liberals – but I interact with liberals more often than I do conservatives in my line of work.

I’ll also admit – as a Catholic-raised Gen Xer – I spent K-12 being taught by nuns, and it was still a time where there were clear winners and losers. Did the Montessori approach to education that bloomed by the turn of the century in the US cause the idea of “there are no losers”? Surely a person who reaches adulthood and has at any time enjoyed a sporting event learns there is no truth to that. There isn’t a way to compromise the end of a football game so that both teams receive some glory.

There is, however, in politics, a way and sometimes a desire to find middle ground, worked out in the nitty gritty of governing sessions. Our representatives, like them or lump them, have to do this (and some do WAY better than others) even though partisan posturing is rampant (99.9% likely because of media) – but that’s a topic for another article. We bombard our representatives to pass legislation that supports our team’s cause. We want there to be a clear winner and loser in the games of politics. But we really need to remember that’s not what our republic stands for. And in order to understand the art of compromising, we need to exercise this skill in our own lives. We as Americans have lost our ability as individuals to compromise, so is it any wonder we can’t get along as a country?

Here are two personal anecdotes that prompted me to compose this article. I should first be forthright in my own convictions – I am Libertarian in as far as freedom is not injurious to others (which in my mind protects children, animals and nature). In fact, I believe my Libertarianism of fiscally conservative and socially liberal to in essence be a compromise of Republican and Democrat values. However, a liberal-minded running acquaintance I see once a week for a group run and post-run beer and trivia asked on social media why I choose to hang out every week with a bunch of liberals when I so clearly (in his mind) lambast so many of the Democrats he reveres. I told him I found it absurd that he could not fathom that I would enjoy the company of folks whose political stances are only one facet of their being.

This was not an isolated incident. Another very dear friend from graduate school unilaterally decided to give our friendship the boot because – while I think gay people should have all the rights afforded straight people – I also thought private businesses could choose to not serve those they did not want to. (And really, who wants to force someone who is diametrically opposed to your existence to bake you a cake?). Rigidity of values strikes down compromise again.

So here’s my conclusion – while there are still winners and losers in the political arena, there are still many shades of gray in the issues. I want this diatribe to be a reminder to all of us to revisit continually the “other” side’s opinion and reasoning for that opinion (if indeed, reasoning is being used as it should). Our balance muscles have become flabby. Exercise it every day on Facebook posts that you initially don’t agree with – you don’t have to post your thoughts, but at least consider the pros (not just the cons) of an issue! The art of compromise is a skill that every American needs to nurture and hone.

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I am a classical musician who also loves old school punk rock music - always finding a balance!