This I Believe
By Linda Penner
I’ve often worried about my namby-pamby, wishy-washy views on the everyday issues that come up in my life. Take shopping, for instance. Do I want to buy the brown and black purse? — it goes with absolutely everything – or do I want the snappy orange one? – it really makes a statement! I can stand for hours in the department store carefully weighing the attributes of both of those purses, until somebody – usually an irritated relative — pulls on my arm and says, “Come on, make up your mind! You’re so indecisive!”
And that I’ve always been. When I was a child and had two friends spatting, I was the one in the middle. Barbara might come to me with her complaints about Karen, and I would understand exactly what she was saying. But then Karen would come to me and tell me about Barbara’s bad behavior, and oh my goodness! once again I saw exactly what she meant. Left to make a decision about which friend to side with, I found myself, uncomfortably, in the middle. Barbara was right about some things, and Karen was right about others. I could see both sides of the argument, and that was satisfying to neither of my friends.
The ability to see both sides of an issue is even less popular today than it was 50 years ago because today we live in a world of absolutes and polarities — black and white, right and wrong, left and right. Just listen to talk radio, and you’ll hear nothing but polarities, fueled by hate and tunnel vision. On the nightly news, listen to the Republicans talk about the Democrats or vice versa, and you’ll discover that they have very little interest in working together toward compromise and action. Listen to the strong television words of representatives of our government and the Middle East, and you’ll see nothing but stark black and white with splashes of angry red hate. There is no measured gray, no soft thoughtfulness, no subtlety, no acceptance, no compromise, not even a pretense of true consideration of what the other side has to say.
And so I reconsider my affliction, my aggravating habit of seeing both sides and getting stuck in the middle. I realize now that seeing both sides of an issue is not mere indecisiveness; it appears to be a lost art, an attribute rather than an affliction, which is sorely needed in our world today.
I believe the middle is good. The middle is rich with complexity. But the middle is hard: it requires compassion, listening, giving in and giving up to make progress. The middle is compromise. The middle is the only place where peace can be found.
Yes, gray is good. Black and white are hard and rigid. Red is painful. Gray is beautiful.
Best of all, it goes with everything. Pick up that gray purse next time you’re shopping. It compliments the darkest black or the hottest pink. Believe me, it feels good with everything.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.