I remember growing up believing that moderation was a good thing. Eating and drinking were rarely good or bad per se, as long not done to excess. Sunshine was a healthy source of vitamin D, if exposure was limited to avoid sunburn. Working hard was valued, but so were social connections with family and friends. And the middle class was large and relevant.
But that was then, and this is now.
We’re living in an increasingly polarized society. The far right and far left are growing at the expense of the center. Economic inequality is creating haves and have-nots to the detriment of the have-somes. And posts to news articles are pro or con, black or white. Social media has enabled people to live within their chosen bubbles.
While there is nothing wrong with having a strongly held opinion, there is a need to—at least occasionally—be open to different perspectives.
Think about social media reactions to news articles.
Here’s one example. Comments following a narrative about micro-schools with mixed-age classrooms were predictable. Most suggested that either all traditional public education is bad, or all alternative approaches are bad. There weren’t too many in the middle.
The extremes follow other stories, too.
Corporations are evil and government is necessary to oversee them. Government is evil and society would be better run by corporations. Can’t they learn something from each other?
And there seems to be precious middle-ground in terms of guns, healthcare, or the environment.
Don’t even bring up religion!
Even work-life balance can’t escape politics. A recent Society for Human Resource Management survey found that over 40% of American workers have political disagreements at work.
There are no easy answers, but here are two options. One approach favors striving to listen to—without bias, defending, or attacking—the opposing viewpoints. One Small Step and Local Voices Network fall into this camp.
- One Small Step is a podcast devoted to stories about people from opposite ends of the political spectrum coming together to share lifestyles, experiences and perspectives. It’s a Storycorps podcast series designed to “counter contempt and dehumanization with acts of listening and engagement.”
- Local Voices Network is a program that organizes small-group, in-person, local conversations. Experienced conversation hosts engage local participants at libraries, community centers and in homes to explore diverse (and often under-represented) opinions. A YouTube video from the Boston chapter highlights this process of creating a space for conversation.
The other approach favors finding common ground on non-political topics. Avoid discussing politics at work, for example, as explained by The Balance Careers.
- A recent article on The Balance Careers suggests diverting conversations away from politics. Talk about a recent vacation, books or movies of interest, or perhaps a new restaurant you experienced. Look for shared interests that change the dynamic of the dialog.
Moderation is still my preferred approach to life. But it might not be our new reality. Choose carefully how you want to live in it.