Can We Stop Swinging the Pendulum, Please?
I like to think of myself as a rational guy. Like anyone, my emotions can get the better of me. But, for the most part, I am the type of person who is slow to form a strong opinion. I don’t mind being undecided about something until I know more. I try to see the truth even in the most absurd statement. I like to think. I want to have reasons for my beliefs and convictions. I think it’s good to think things through. I’m not sure if other people see me this way, but it’s the kind of person I try to be.
As I see it, our society is losing the ability to think rationally. Oh, sure, we pride ourselves on being rational and intellectual. It’s just that we actually suck at it. Know how you can tell? By watching the pendulum swing.
I don’t remember exactly how the saying goes, but the idea is this: one person (or society or culture or whatever) has a strong opinion, and in response, the opposing view must swing to the other extreme. The key here is not that there are extreme views. The key is that we feel we must swing completely the other way if we disagree. If we don’t, we somehow feel like we are giving a hint of support to an idea we basically reject. It’s why we have “right” and “left” wings in politics, as if their viewpoints were so far apart they could hardly have a middle ground in common.
My own generation is a generation of pendulum swingers. The traditional family used to be ideal – now it’s archaic. Spanking used to be an effective mode of discipline – now it’s child abuse. Saving money in a jar until you could buy something in cash used to be wise – now we revere the credit card. Having moral standards for TV programming used to be common sense – now we support “freedom of expression”. A little bit of religion used to be a respectable thing – now it’s oppressive. I could go on and on and on forever. Name the subject, and the dominant viewpoints are almost assuredly polar opposites.
This is the reason sharing your own opinion is nearly impossible nowadays. People always seem to take a statement and blow it up into a big deal. For example, I read a blog recently by a parent who was talking about being wiped out at the end of the day from taking care of their young children, and how it’s nice to have some “me time” once the youngsters head off to bed. It was a solid piece, very relatable for any parent who has little ones at home. Yet, the comment section was lit up with comments like, “If being a parent is so awful, then why did you have kids in the first place?” The blogger, of course, never said anything like that in the post. In fact, she spoke sincerely about her love for her children and how rewarding the experience of raising children is. Yet this little blog post sent the pendulum swinging wild as if Tarzan was hanging onto the end of it.
Knowing that so many people react this way, we have become a culture of political correctness. The way we have to sanitize sharing an opinion is disappointing, knowing that you need to straddle the fence for fear of offending someone. You can share your opinion, but only if you couch it with statements like “Don’t get me wrong…” or “Now I’m not saying…” or “Don’t misunderstand me…”. Even then, someone is sure to swing your view to the extreme they think you are leaning towards. Sorry, there’s no room for middle ground here! It’s at the point where we’re becoming a people who are masters at speaking without saying anything at all.
I’d like to make a proposition. Can we stop swinging the pendulum and have room for a middle ground? Can we allow people to speak clearly and not read into their statements what we think they mean? And if we’re not really sure, can we ask for clarification? I think it’s fair to allow people to have a middle ground opinion. We don’t all have to have extreme viewpoints. Did you know that you can be pro-spanking but against child abuse? Are you aware that it’s possible to not support gay marriage and still not hate gay people? Can your mind stretch enough to understand that believing in old-fashioned chivalry isn’t the same as suppressing women? Gosh! Can it really be? (Sorry, that last statement wasn’t very couched.)
I propose that we return to using our heads. There can be a middle ground with things. We don’t always need to swing from extreme to extreme. It’s okay to land in the middle. Rational, thinking people don’t need to always be polarized on issues. We don’t have to freak out about everything. We can take the good and dismiss the bad. We can accept part of a viewpoint without accepting all of it. We would stop a whole lot of senseless bickering if we just took a minute to think about what we say, about what we hear, and did it without needing to go to extremes.
Let’s give the poor pendulum a break.