Balance, Compromise, Action, Apathy

September 13, 2009

I hear a lot about balance and compromise lately, especially in light of the ever increasing polarized political climate we find ourselves in.

Recently, parents across the country became angry when the President wanted to address the nation’s schoolchildren via television. Right-wing parents screamed that this was an attempt to “indoctrinate” their children in “socialism” and pulled them out of class in droves. That the President only wanted to speak of the value of education and hard work was irrelevant. Then came the infamous “You lie!” shout during Obama’s health care address. Even though the point Obama was making was proven true by independent political watch groups, reform opponents refuse to deny the “liar” claim even if many of them do agree that the way it was voiced during the speech was inappropriate.

So why rehash this now? Everyone else has already mentioned these things. I noticed a few facebook friends had linked an article by Pat Buchanan to their pages, and normally I’d avoid Buchanan’s opinion at any cost but I decided to give it a read. The piece, published on the web on September the 10th is titled “Is America Coming Apart?”  Buchanan makes a few good points, rightly pointing out that when G.H.W. Bush went to a school in 1991 the left freaked out, and went on to mention that those of us on different sides of the “big issues” (like abortion, gay rights, environmental protection and conservation, etc.) tend to label our position much more nobly than our opponents label it and term their position in a much more derogatory term as well. Buchanan goes on to make various observations about cultural and political issues he feels further polarize us today. Oddly enough, he at one point laments that we’ve replaced “heroes” like Robert E. Lee with people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have major problems with the idea that it’s a bad thing to replace Lee with King as a modern hero, and I find it silly that King should be considered “polarizing” when the things he stood and worked for are good for all of us, but that’s another issue altogether.

 Buchanan seems to think that we now have diversity but not unity. Those of us who feel drawn to do work that seeks to help people, to help society, to build things up and those of us with spiritual and/or religious lives, feel a need to be open, tolerant and to seek unity. But some people seem to think this means we must be more “balanced.” I follow that we should speak with respect, debate with care and love those we don’t agree with. Yet I feel it’s worth pointing out that we can’t seek peaceful balance at the cost of mediocrity or apathy. Buchanan asks “where is the unity?” in a way that suggests that we once all got along much more civilly from both sides. I grant him that with the advent of openly biased 24 hour news networks like Fox News and MSNBC, the proliferation of politics on the internet and a slew of amped up anger and judgment, things are more vocally polarized. Yet there have always been universal differences in the right and the left. If in the past those that strove to bring about equality and justice through the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and various peace movements in our country had been too concerned with peaceful balance, progress would never have been made. I stress that peace was necessary– Dr. King used pacifism and nonviolent protest to accomplish his mission. Yet the idea he should have had to “compromise” with the Alabama government without offending their beliefs that African Americans shouldn’t have the same rights as whites seems absurd.

We can have respect for others as people without compromising our beliefs on issues that are very important-take the health care debate. There are hard facts involved. The World Health Organization ranked the US 37th out of 191 on the list of all health care systems in the world in 2008. France was ranked at number 1. Yet despite this FACT, those on the right argue we have nothing to take from the system France uses and that the system they use is really worse than ours because it is “socialism,” the latest hip disparaging word used by a sector of the right that really have no comprehension of what socialism. The struggle to be bi-partisan, to reach across the aisle and to compromise in this health care debate is seemingly fruitless. There is no compromise, because those on the right don’t see a need for reform.

I struggle with knowing how to draw the line. There are people that I love and respect that I don’t see eye to eye on over many issues. Yet when it comes to speaking out on, writing about and working towards positive change and progress on these issues, I feel I can’t be overly concerned with being “balanced” if it means balancing fact, compassion, justice, hope and progress with misinformation, hysteria, prejudice, greed and selfishness. The current health care debate affects the health, wealth, well-being and security of millions of Americans. Any of us making less than $50,000 a year, even with health insurance, aren’t secure under the current system because one serious injury or illness could easily result in bankruptcy for us. Yet to speak these things is considered “polarizing.” What about the environmental issues, as Buchanan mentions? Despite conclusive and repeated studies and warnings from every major scientific mind in the world that state that unless major changes are made we will irreparably harm the planet, must we still “debate” and compromise over that as well, at the cost of all future generations? What about issues concerning women, immigrant, minority and gay rights? Must we compromise that some of these people simply do not deserve all of the rights the rest of us have?

 That ‘s where I see the urging for balance as being misguided. I wholeheartedly agree that we should speak to those on the other side of issues with care, respect and compassion. I agree we should be friends with those that share completely different political and religious ideals than us. We can always learn from them, they can always learn from us. A dialogue and a friendship can provide all of us with a better understanding of the “Other.” Besides, outside of politics and religion, surely we have plenty else to talk about with our fellow human beings in friendship. But, on these issues that affect health, justice, love and equality we must not be afraid to speak, write and work towards a better tomorrow. When facts don’t work to persuade the opposition, non-violent action and devotion might. I remind myself that, according to the Christian scriptures and ideas, even Jesus got angry. When? Anytime an issue of justice came up. Jesus loved and spoke with all, regardless of their personal sins and flaws. He befriended and cared for everyone on a human level. Yet he had no patience for any system , belief or practice that oppressed the “other.” If government, religion or marketplace devalued the rights of the poor, the different, the immigrant, the overlooked, Jesus spoke out. Most other major figures from the enduring world religions and philosophies did this as well. Would they compromise their opinion on justice so as not to trouble or offend anyone?

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