A Culture of Extremes
We live in a culture that promotes and rewards extremism.
I mean think about it, you either have to love Peeps (the candy) or hate them. There’s no in between. (I for one am still busy mourning the discontinuation of the Peepsters – dark chocolate goodness surrounding a marshmallow creme center reminiscent of love and happiness and everything God intended in the garden…).
Of course, nowhere is this currently playing out in a more obvious way than the 2016 Presidential election cycle. As of this week, we are left with the far right, the far left, and Donald Trump, who let’s face it, is just extreme. Gov. Kasich is the notable exception but he is a non-factor at this point in the race.
We have managed to create a system where only the extreme views have opportunity to succeed on a national level. I’m too far removed from my political science degree to make a sound argument for how we got there in the democratic process – I will leave that analysis to the likes of David Brooks – but I will say that the result is a cycle of amassing more and more debt as we swing back and forth from one side of the pendulum to the other with nothing actually being accomplished. We elect a Democrat to the White House, and the next congressional election shifts back to the Republicans, and everyone points to the opposite side for why we can’t get things done. We elect a Republican to the White House and, well, you know where this is going.
What I find most frustrating in this current state of reality is that the vast majority of our population does not fall into an extreme category. I actually believe most of us agree on most things, but it’s more fun and more entertaining to talk about the disagreements, i.e. who can say the craziest thing on social media today and thereby “go viral”? We feed on our discontent rather than working out of our strengths and opportunities for agreement. And in doing so, we create labels and caricatures for the opposing viewpoints that hold very little resemblance to most actual people we meet.
For example, I believe the vast majority of people want to see fewer mass shootings (and by fewer, we mean none). That’s what most of us want. We want to feel like our kids are safe at school and we can walk into a movie theater and trust that all of the nuttiness is happening on screen and not around us. But instead of having a real conversation about how we work to get there, we give the proverbial microphone to the extremes who make us believe we have to either love guns or hate guns, and furthermore to love guns equates to loving violence, and to hate guns equates to enabling violence. What?! Maybe it has very little to do with the guns at all, but we’ll never find out if the conversation stops there.
What would happen if we all took a few steps back from the crazy juice?
Let’s be clear – I’m not making an argument for mediocrity or the absence of universal truth. I’m not even making an argument against the health and advantages of civil disagreement. But there’s the key word – civil disagreement – which ought to be followed by active engagement. Tension is at the core of every great advancement humanity has made.
This is a big conversation and I’m probably wading into a really big pool that I’m not prepared to swim in, but let me make it personal. I believe passionately that everyone needs Jesus and I will unapologetically spend my life sharing Him with everyone I can. Some would say that is extreme, and maybe it is. But I believe I can still sit down at a dinner table with my atheist neighbor and share about my faith, listen to theirs and openly own our hopes and desires for the others conversion without feeling like we have to hate each other, disrespect each other or not allow our kids to bike to the playground together. I want excellent public schools that meet the needs of ALL of our kids, but I don’t think our federal government is intended or well-equipped to take on the role of creating those schools. This puts me in tension with some of my friends who want to see more federal dollars being spent and more standards established and regulated on a national level, but it doesn’t take away the fact that all of us want our kids and other kids to learn and grow and have the best opportunities to succeed.
I can’t fix Washington, DC. Sorry, not my calling. I gave up my political aspirations long ago when I realized God was calling me to use my gifts and leverage my influence in the Church. But I know I can do my part in my little corner of the world to not play into the extremes. I can refuse to let generalizations and hyped-up categories define how I see and love my neighbors. I can trust people enough to share some of my thoughts and opinions and listen to theirs without taking license to decide who they are about everything based on one thing.
It’s not just rhetoric, I actually believe we’re better together. But in our current culture of extremes, I think we may all need some practice to get better at being better together.
Who’s up for trying?