I believe there are no easy answers – at least not for the most important questions. I also believe that people who think otherwise are dangerous.
We cannot substitute principles or platitudes for answers.
I grew up a sixth generation, small-town Jew in the latter days of Reconstruction South. I was indoctrinated with Southern values, and I sorted them: some really good and some really bad. My heroes include the barefoot, starving and awesomely honorable soldiers of the Confederacy and Martin Luther King. I will automatically be labeled half-racist for admiring Confederates, but I believe the soldiers and Dr. King had more common, admirable qualities than anybody might superficially think. Its sad that we have to censor our well-thought conclusions out of fear of superficial thinking.
I have seen a single father pronounce, “right is right and wrong is wrong” a dozen times and in the process lose his parental rights to a two-and-a-half year old daughter, rather than show up for a test that he assuredly would have passed, but which he felt it was wrong for a court to make him take. He would not be coerced by “wrong,” and thus he lost his daughter forever. I do not believe that was good thinking.
I have repeatedly seen our government exercise the same sort of standing-on-principles-and-accomplishing-the-opposite-result thinking — there are too many instances to describe in this essay.
Nuance and long careful answers are ridiculed in public debate. But nuance is no match for sound-bites. We used to think of people who refuse to analyze a situation as “stupid.” Now we call them “straight-ahead,” as if it’s a virtue.
We hear that the “devil is in the details.” Actually, the devil wants us to skip the details. One of the best examples is stem cell research. The in-vitro fertilization process, which has produced many healthy babies and happy parents, inevitably involves left-over clumps of a dozen or less cells. We were going to use them for stem-cell research, with a good chance of developing some wonderful cures. Instead we will continue to throw the left-over embryos in the garbage. Thank God we are not using them to keep people alive! Apparently, that would be murder.
I have lost tolerance for people who identify with a segment of society and feel secure just parrot what they’re told “we” think.
We seem to instictively find strength in simple answers. However, we can better serve our objectives (like preserving life) when we get to our decisions the hard way.
Believing is just no substitute for listening and thinking. The issues of the day are complicated and every public and private challenge – every problem we have to solve – is more like a rubik’s cube than an altar call. I think that the trendiness of simple answers is the biggest threat right now to our way of life.
I believe in hard answers.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.