I have an almost built in desire to see both sides of an argument. I think that’s a pretty healthy thing, but I wonder sometimes if it’s also my way of copping out.
When you seek to see both sides of an argument, you can be tempted to avoid backing any one view wholeheartedly. You can, in essence, sit on the fence, and have a strong sense of justification in doing so. So I wonder – am I playing safe, or is it because it really is too complex to know?
Do I sit on the fence because I’m scared of confrontation? It’s a lot easier to say “Maybe” about something, and many people, after trying to pin me down, seem to settle with my maybe, because I’m being so reasonable about it all. “You may have a point there” I say, “but I’m not sure if… because……” And I’ve proven to be just a little too slippery to pin down, so they back off.
If I state boldly “This is my view, and this is why” then I set myself up for strong opposition. I’ve never been very good at handling strong opposition. I tend to crumble on the inside, and doubt myself. The other person could be dead wrong, but if they state their belief with passion and force I find myself thinking “Maybe they’re right”. I go into defensive mode (I can feel when it happens) and my sense of objectivity goes out the window. My logic becomes strained and pulled by my fear (yes fear, how dumb is that) and I am longer able to deliver a point of view with any sense of certainty, or perhaps too much certainty because I’m compensating madly.
Case in point. I recently made a comment on Facebook about a survey done by a particular newspaper in Melbourne that is deliberately targeted to lesser educated readers (the newspaper that is). I had questions about the survey results and and in the process described it as “not a thinking person’s newspaper”, an accurate description but understandably a bit offensive to those who read it. Well I copped flak for that from someone I had never met and I was surprised how unnerved I became by their mild but still personal attack. Actually what upset me was that they were upset! And that they responded by taking it personally and getting personal in reply.
Of course, it is also possible that I sit on the fence because it really is complex and I’m intelligent enough to recognise that it’s hard to be sure about some things. There’s an old saying that goes something like “The intelligent are full of doubt, and the ignorant are sure about everything”. There is a lot of truth to that.
I find emotive issues the worst. Discrimination against women is something I detest, but I find that I can’t agree with absolutely everything that is pointed at men. It has something to do with my emotional defensiveness (I am a man after all) and of course not everything said against men is right, but which is right and which isn’t? Whilst there’s plenty of black and white parts, it’s all the grey areas that I can’t be sure of. And my defensive feelings interfere with my own ability to discern what is fair and what is overblown.
The refugee crisis is another example. In Australia we keep asylum seekers (those who try to reach our shores by boat) in detention camps on Manus Island and on Nauru. We turn back boats, and we have sometimes taken refugees straight back to their country of origin, no doubt straight into the arms of their oppressors. The detention centres are currently off limits to journalists and just about anyone who isn’t part of the Government, and unsubstantiated reports of brutality and other offences have leaked out.
Huge issues there, and I feel very strongly about the treatment of the refugees. But anything less (or so they tell us, I’m not convinced) would not deter the boat smugglers, the ones who bring the refugees over. I freely admit that it is extremely complex, and that we don’t want to send a signal that asylum seekers will find it easy to land on our shores. However, the contemptible treatment of refugees is not an acceptable practice despite the dilemma. There has to be a better way, but at the same time accepting all refugees or making it easy for them to come is not a solution either.
It’s tempting to try and simplify things when they’re just not simple – and yet that’s what so many people try to do. I could list many more examples that in my opinion are just “too hard” to boil down to simple statements or slogans.
I have also found that reasonable, balanced discussion is hard to find. Opinions expressed are all too often framed in terms of black and white, and couched in words that make it difficult to disagree with without making them look foolish. The person who got offended by my newspaper comment could have said “why do you think (x) paper is not for thinking people? I read it all the time”. Instead they responded “I resent your comments … You are elitist….”. I considered trying to respond but gave it up, because I knew I would either have to abjectly apologise or go into protracted discussions that would not be appreciated and, let’s face it, just wasn’t worth it.
So I come back to my original comment. I seek balance, and do believe that the truth is often somewhere in the middle, and that it is often hard to find. However, I don’t like to make myself an easy target, and probably don’t take a side as often as I should because I don’t like the battle that ensues.
Maybe if people took sides but also recognised the grey and the ambiguous in their position, it would make for a lot more reasonable discussion and understanding. And just maybe I would suck it up a bit more and be more ready to enter the fray.