Thursday, August 18, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, this nation lost a great man.  Mark Hatfield served in the US Senate for 6 terms.  While he was committed to fulfilling his office, he didn't always vote the way much of his constituency wanted him to.   He voted according to  his conscience which put him more often than not in the middle between political extremes, and sometimes at variance with as many as 90+% of his supporters. Yet, they loved him and kept re-electing him.  I read in an article* about him the other day  that while re-election was never his goal when he considered how to vote on any issue, he never lost an election. *  

If only we had a congress full of Mark Hatfields today. We surely could use a man of his moderate, sensible, responsible stature in every office in our government. 
or how ‘bout in just one of them!!? Assuredly! I think we all felt that way recently when we watched the debt-ceiling circus performance of our re-election-focused politicians. It looked to me, at least, as if each congressman strove to fit in with his/her colleagues and stand firmly against all opponents across the aisle.  How much sooner might the crisis have been resolved if we had a dozen more Hatfields committed to finding a solution somewhere in the middle of the road where truth so often lies? 

You and I recently had a discussion about this middle of the road thing in contrast to our increasingly polarized atmosphere in Washington DC.  We began to ask whether it is wise, safe, or even possible to stay in the middle and hope to have any influence-- or even to survive.

your question is a really good one, and probably deserves a better answer than I know to give! if I’d been in charge of the sandbox down in Washington the other week, I’d’ve sent them all to bed without dessert!! I’d have sent them without DINNER! and I’d defer, gladly! it seems to me that it’s because of the chasm left by the desertion of good sense, that hideous forms of extremism are able to survive and thrive. By the time a guy like john bohner comes to his senses and sees what his political stumping, instead of leading, is doing to both sides, and begins to actually lead…it’s way too late…the game’s been thrown and the inmates have taken the asylum!

unfortunately, and, to me, sadly, the one guy we’d counted on NOT to be in the middle of the road, in so many important issues, has been the worst one of all…and understand this, he’s been MY GUY!! obama has tried so very hard to walk the middle ground he’s almost run over HIMSELF!!

several weeks ago, bebe netenyahu was here, and for the first time in many, many years was allowed to leave with a bad taste in his mouth…obama wants to be israel’s friend, but he wants to be a friend of Palestine as well, it seems, and for whatever reason—I don’t know the reason, maybe someone could tell me—he doesn’t  understand that you cannot be friends with muslim terrorists…they don’t wish your friendship, or even your existence…get over it…yes, yes, yes, there are wonderful muslims, I’m sure, all over the world—and until they are willing to stand up and deal with their terrorist brethren, themselves, they must deal with the stigma of being identified among them…this is not MY problem, it is THEIR problem…

so, now, the “wondering” we extend to those on this train with us—is it even possible, today—in today’s more contentious environment—to stay in the middle of the road, or anywhere nearby it? or has “middle of the road” just, in fact, become a dirty phrase, and we who try to go there, “wusses” or “weenies!”

ethel and I took, finally, a few minutes to define our terms…we define middle of the road thusly:

  • it must include the notion of THINKING; using one’s head
  • politically, there must be no democrats, republicans, libertarians, or any other side-taking; only individuals.
  • all extremes on any or every side must be erased or ignored.
  • it must acknowledge that the goal is truth (and justice, and maybe even the American Way!)  whatever that or they may be
  • it must acknowledge all who come to speak…and there must be listening to all comers, and a consideration of all ideas.
“Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.”
 Margaret Thatcher

  So what do you think? Is it worth it? Or not? Come talk!!


Anonymous said...

Growing up, I learned the way to maneuver the journey of life was the middle of the road which meant to play it safe, don't ruffle any feathers, mind your own business, work, & pay your bills. To read, "Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides," doesn't compute.

As an adult, I've learned that what's important is to stand up for what I believe & be willing to pay the consequences. I read recently, "I'd rather be ashes than dust. I'd rather my spark burn out than that it should be stifled by dry rot. The proper function of my life is to live, not exist. So I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use every moment."
(Author unknown)

While it's obvious our definition of middle of the road is different, our conclusions are the same - acting on & voting our conscience.

Thank you for your insights,
Sherry Cox

From the Rim of the Box said...

hi sherry, sorry this is a long time in coming. I must be a slow thinker…

you’re right--we have some areas of agreement...for instance: you say you learned to keep your head down, and mind your business, etc…which, of course, you can do if you’re not margaret thatcher, or someone with a constituency pulling at your skirt hems for attention and approval. and you can get through life quite successfully, too, and without losing friends, as a bonus…but…

As an adult, I've learned that what's important is to stand up for what I believe & be willing to pay the consequences. I read recently, "I'd rather be ashes than dust. I'd rather my spark burn out than that it should be stifled by dry rot." so now you have a choice—make everyone happy by staying out of the fight…or “stand up for what you believe…” and wind up becoming a target for those who are doing the same, on the other side--and aren’t listening to you, EITHER.

what we’re saying is, OF COURSE, STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE…! but do it with an open mind and heart. come to the table ready to listen.

years ago, just after I’d finished my first book, I was sent to someone I was told I could trust, to polish and edit my manuscript…I’d never done any of this before…this was my “first birth!” I was very reluctant, but I’d just gotten my first computer, and I had a full copy of my new book on it, so how could this editor harm me….in other words, I could afford to be open to suggestion because if I didn’t like what we “accomplished,” I could trash the edits and go back to my original…no harm, no foul. and my whole point is that I could relax and ACTUALLY listen…no defenses. it turned out she was pretty much 100% right—who knew!? An open mind and heart changes everything…

you may be positive you intend to do “A” but, being willing to listen to my brilliant and compelling arguments, you can see where some “B” will fit in very nicely with your “A.” We walk off arm in arm into the sunset, because you found a way to listen and we were able to compromise…

a good, strong word, if thought of in just the right way--COMPROMISE.

From the Rim of the Box said...

It occurs to me as we talk about this most important topic that "middle of the road" means very different things to different folks, but also in different contexts. And the word compromise can be a nasty word or a welcome one, depending on your orientation to life and on the circumstances.

I firmly believe in moral purity, which may keep me at one end of the spectrum in many situations. The same is true with some doctrinal issues arising from my faith.

But for the most part what we were discussing in our blog above had to do with political matters. You know, the conservative vs liberal, party line stuff. Many of us were raised to believe firmly, almost as if it was a part of our doctrinal statement that Repbulicans are godly and Democrats are not godly. We learned to mix politics with faith in such an inextricable way that we were afraid to listen to folks with differing points of view. After all, if they didn't agree with what our mothers taught us, they were wrong! And heaven help us all if our representatives in the legislature ever compromised what we wanted them to do or say.

I'll stick my neck out far enough to say that I've come to believe that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, neither far-right conservative nor far-left liberal.
And Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," not "those who refuse to budge in the interest of bringing order to our society.

In this connection, let me suggest a book I read not long ago, that expresses with great eloquence the things I have come to espouse in this whole arena. The book is Faith and Politics by Senator John Ashcroft. Read it and let me know what you think.

While I believe a great many things-- morally, religiously, politically-- and I will stand strong for whatever I believe, in the appropriate situation, I will do so with an open ear and a heart bent on finding truth and pursuing peace.

Wonderer said...

Thank you for some very thought-provoking posts, and too bad I come a bit late to this discussion! I so appreciate the way the two of you embody the openness and search for truth you promote in this post.

A few of my own thoughts and questions:

1. I've been extremely disheartened by the polarization that is growing in the US. A call to listen to and respect those with differing opinions--and to use one's brain in the process--is very timely.

2. I believe very strongly that we are meant to pursue truth in the way of love, and that one of the best ways of learning truth is by listening to those who disagree with me. I find that some of my original opinions can be strengthened this way, but I carry these opinions with more compassion; other times I find that I've missed some key facts when forming my opinions; still other times I realize that we can look at the same facts with very different perspectives. One of the worst things I can do is to dehumanize those who disagree with me.

3. I'm not sure I'd seek consistently to pursue the middle-of-the-road. I say this partly because, in my experience, extremes and middle ground are both relative. Some countries, for example, are so far left of us that both the US political left and right are considered right-wing. I think we as a nation have something to learn from as well as something to teach these "extreme" places. In our own country, 170 or 180 years ago, the abolition of slavery could have been argued to be an extreme political stance, but I doubt anyone reading this blog would disagree that anything less than complete abolition should have occurred. As I see it, the problem in our current situation is that people are pursuing political war rather than peace; they are defining those who disagree as enemies to be defeated rather than as friends to sharpen their ideas with.

Well, I've rambled long enough, but I want to thank you again for some thought-provoking material!
Janet Somes

From the Rim of the Box said...

Wonderful wisdom here Janet.

I absolutely agree with you right down the line, and when Ellen gets home from a weekend out, I know she'll have something to say to you as well.

I love your key thoughts about listening as a means to finding truth and enabling us all to work together. I think most of us have developed such an animosity complex with all who seem to disagree with us, that we see ourselves far more as soldiers than peacemakers. I keep thinking how Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers," not the warmongers.Thanks so much for jumping in here with us.

From the Rim of the Box said...

hi janet! welcome to the blog…I started this as soon as i got home; let me just jump in here...i don’t think you’re late at all; we’re just getting warmed up, and you’re very welcome to go take a look at any of the postings and comment on them, too…just let us know you’ve been there so we can go back, too.

I expect you’ll need to get in line if you wish to be disheartened by what’s going on all around us—that is unless you’re a member of congress--either party, in which case you’re paid a considerable sum to be HEARTENED, perhaps even to salivate at the thought of burying the other side in a barrage of nonsensical words and deaf ears. what makes it so painful, to me, in the case of our congress, is that it appears to be deliberate.

I wish you were my congressman…except experience of many many years shows me that when the most idealistic of people go into elective office, more often than not, they are changed by it, and not for the good. I will never forget the congress guy who said, “you have to understand, somebody holds my umbrella for me, and if I crash my car into one containing 5 nuns, bystanders will run to my limo, FIRST, to make sure I wasn’t hurt!!

a few years of that, maybe you might feel you don’t need to listen anymore, so much…maybe you feel like people need to listen to YOU… a fantasy world for a control freak!!!

except for that example, though, I think what you’ve said here in your number two is perfectly articulated, and speaks for me, as well. the only problem with it is that with the ugliness going on around us, currently…it’s difficult to realize that these grownups are dead wrong, and we’re right… because they’re the ones making our laws and rules.

“I'm not sure I'd seek consistently to pursue the middle-of-the-road.” I’m thinking about your use of that phrase. we’ve mentioned it, sherry’s mentioned it—I think others have, too, and it seems like everyone means something different. maybe I just don’t explain myself too well because I don’t mean it as a political position...i use it only as that place I want to position myself so that I’m able to, not just listen, but to actually HEAR, both sides of an issue in order to discuss something rationally. once both sides have been expressed, I can begin to move in the direction where my heart actually lies—and then, finally, occasionally, I may get dragged over to the other side! I am draggable…

I did want to point out one final thing, janet. you said: “I doubt anyone reading this blog would disagree that anything less than complete abolition should have occurred.” it occurred to me, as I read this that the WIDE WORLD web, covers the wide world! you and I and most of those we know probably believe what you wrote, just as you wrote it. but there are some town squares in the deep south you might not want to stand in the middle of and articulate words that mean such as that…you won’t always know who’s listening, I’m guessing…but that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it? and if they’re out there and reading this…come on in and JOIN US!!