On Sunday, Miles McKey came to Youth Group and we talked about the liberal/conservative divide, in advance of the upcoming Arlie Hochschild book talk on the same topic. I asked for a show of hands with youth and advisers alike, and found that nearly all of us have:
1) avoided talking to people who have very different politics than we do
2) gotten into loud and unproductive arguments with people who have very different politics than we do and
3) done one of the above with members of our own family.
Most of us know what it’s like to fall into extremes, and I’m not talking about the false extremes of “radical left” or “hard right.” I’m talking about the extremes of over-engaging and under-engaging. With a family member this might mean the choice between heated hostility and chilly silence. With the world as it is now, it might mean the choice between protesting until you collapse in an exhausted heap of nerves on the one hand, and switching the radio off and pretending all is well on the other hand. And these are false extremes – there is plenty of middle ground – but it’s hard to strike a balance.
In a world where “if you aren’t outraged you aren’t paying attention,” I’m working hard to find the middle ground. More experienced activists than I, and those whose race, sexuality, and gender identity haven’t insulated them from injustice the way mine have, tell me it’s possible. The challenge is to stay sane (that is, healthy, balanced, not burnt-out) at the same time as you stay woke (clear-eyed, unsentimental, aware and informed about injustice).
One of the youth said in our discussion, “I just wish I could stay calm while I talked to them.” Without calmness these cross-political conversations devolve and get unproductive. My prayer for us is that we can, somehow, be both calm and outraged at the same time. Though this might involve an expansion of spirit, hard work, and some significant growing pains, it’s bound to be worthwhile growth.