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Stuck in the Middle

Remember the song from the 70’s Stuck in The Middle with You by Stealers Wheel?

Clowns to the left of me

Jokers to the right

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

Joker CardFinding room in the middle — both socially and as a standpoint for critical thinking — is a difficult task when it comes to almost anything.  Topics that are not political become so politicized, so quickly, that rational conversation is shunned. A conversation can barely be had at all whether it’s about a movie, a sport, or even music without the mention of the actor’s (or athlete’s, performer’s, etc.) political views coming up.

So often today we are labeled as “left,” “right,” “pro-this,” “anti-that.” What’s worse is the labels are attached by people who don’t know the people they are attaching them to. We see it every day on television, on websites, on social media. What’s worse is that we repeat and repost things that have not been verified… or that may not be verifiable in the first place.

To be sure, our political leaders may have a hand in this. It’s not uncommon to blame one’s political opponent for things like, say, bad weather. They make “my dog ate my homework” seem believable after all. Perhaps the wave of changing attitudes on accountability has played a hand in this as well.

There was a time when “the middle” was where civility was easy to find, and it was a large space. It may still be a large space, but its public relations department hasn’t released an advertising campaign in some time. Perhaps the entrance roads have been blocked at its left-most and right-most points of entry.

QuestioningIn the same decade as the song I mentioned, 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 class.  What we didn’t do: attack each other over our differences. Dr. Richard Katims was the professor of that class, and he had a knack for giving value to a variety of opinions. At the end of the class some opinions may have changed, others reinforced, but what I never saw happen was the creation of enemies. Dr. Katims was talented at fostering critical thinking. Although he certainly had his own opinions, he accomplished this by asking thought-provoking questions without bias.

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. So, too, is the ability to demonstrate the importance of critical thinking. It’s much more than regurgitating what is seen and heard as one scrolls through feeds on a smartphone.

The middle may be an unpopular place in which to be stuck; however, it may be the correct place. If you find yourself there, feel free to invite the “clowns to the left of you, jokers to the right” to join you.

March 2020

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