We hear a lot about strife these days, and see this strife demonstrated in groups on opposing sides of so called “contentious” issues, in often violent confrontation. Let me suggest that contentious issues become contentious because of this polarization. The “other side” becomes “the enemy”, and the result of this polarization often tragic.
I took Christian theology in university because I was raised Catholic and had ideas about becoming a Catholic priest. But if life is about experiences that change you, and all experience should change us, my university experiences did just that. In order to qualify for my degree, I had to take two non-Christian courses, so I took courses in Judaism and Buddhism. From the Judaism I learn what I didn’t know about Jews, which was everything. We respected Jews in our family as our “spiritual forefathers”, but we knew virtually nothing about Jewish culture or heritage; I learned a lot from the course.
Perhaps the most important attitude I took from Buddhism was the “Middle Way” The Buddha himself described the extreme hardships he subjected himself to before he found “the Middle Way”. I am naturally opinionated, one of the key character traits of being eccentric, and yes, at times I can be extremist, a “knee-jerk” reaction more than anything else. But the Middle Way forces me to pause, to examine both sides of any issue, and even a side I might be opposed to. I find myself examining that opposing side to understand why those who hold it have that view. This may not convince me, but I do end up with a degree of compassion for the “opposition” as I try to understand why they hold the views that they do. And they are never “the enemy”.
The Middle Way isn’t an easy way because it isn’t comfortable. To see an opposing side on much closer examination, and agree it might have some merit is sometimes hard to do, but much better than the violence I’ve seen. And it forces me to reexamine my own beliefs in the light of new knowledge.
We seem to be an increasing polarized people; some have had the opinion that part of our difficulty is trying to find simple solutions for complicated problems. People often try to see the problem as having having two sides, when in fact issues have many sides, many of them subtle and complex, and vital. Not right or wrong, but many degrees.
It’s hard to think that someone criticizing you may have a point; we want to lash out against “opponents”. But we need to do ourselves a favour and take a moment to see all sides of the argument, because, often, “sitting on the fence” can give that necessary overview.