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Stuck in the Middle (Revisited)

critical thinkingAbout 18 months ago, I wrote a blog about extremism. This is a follow-up to that.

Remember the 70’s song Stuck in The Middle with you By Stealers Wheel? It has a line in it, ”Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

Finding room in the middle, socially speaking, is a difficult task for almost anything. Topics that are not political become so politicized that rational conversation is shunned. An exchange can barely be had about a movie, sports, viruses, and even music without mentioning the actor, athlete, or performer’s political view coming up.

critical thinkingSo often today, we are labeled as left, right, pro this, anti-that, etc.

What’s worse is people are attaching labels to individuals that are strangers. We see it every day on T.V. and social media. What’s worse is we repeat and repost stuff that has not been verified and may not be verifiable.

To be sure, our political leaders have a hand in this too. It’s not uncommon to blame one political opponent for things like bad weather. They make “my dog ate my homework” seem believable after all. Perhaps the wave of no accountability has played a hand in this too.

There was a time when the middle was where civility was easy to find, and it was ample space. Perhaps it is still a large space, but the public relations department hasn’t released an advertising campaign in some time. Maybe the entrance roads have been blocked at points of entry by the left and the right.

In the same decade that the song mentioned at the beginning of this blog was made, I was in a political science class in college. We discussed political topics of the day. As you might guess, there were differing opinions expressed during the course.

critical thinkingWhat we didn’t do is go after each other because of differences.

Dr. Richard Katims was the professor of that class. He had a knack for giving value to a variety of opinions. At the end of the course, some views may have changed, others reinforced, but what I never saw happen was the creation of enemies. What Dr. Katims was so good at was fostering critical thinking. He did this by asking thought-provoking questions not wrapped in his own opinion, although he probably had some.

There’s a valuable lesson here for educators, parents, and anyone who finds themselves in a position of authority, especially when acting as a group moderator. Facts are important, and so too is the ability to demonstrate the importance of critical thinking and how it is much more than regurgitating what is seen and heard on your “smartphone.”

The divisions continue at an accelerating rate.

I’ve seen more of what I consider extremism. Families, including my own, have firm opinions about some things. What we don’t have is an inflexible position that damages our relationship. Others are less fortunate. I’ve seen family members who have completely severed ties with siblings and parents.

The chance of changing someone’s opinion who has emotionally built a wall to protect that opinion is highly unlikely. One of my often-used phrases is this: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It is a waste of your time, and it annoys the pig.”

The middle may be an unpopular place to be stuck in, but it may be the correct place. Feel free to invite the clowns to the left and the jokers to the right if you find yourself in the middle. You may not teach them to sing, but you can surely find something to enjoy together. Maybe invite them to a rib dinner (from the pig that wouldn’t sing). Plant-based “meats” are also an option.

September 2021

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