This I Believe

Michael - Berkeley, California
Entered on October 26, 2006

A Passionate Moderate

Can a person be passionate about having a moderate ideology on politics, business and civilization’s issues in general? I believe that you can; I am. But it’s hard to do, and it took me many years to develop my passion for being a moderate.

During my undergraduate years – when I started to become politically aware – it seemed that if a peer was passionate about an issue, then they inevitably held an extreme view on that issue. Whether the topic was religion, geopolitics or personal rights, the people that had extreme positions were zealots on the subject, and the people that had moderate positions were dispassionate or even apathetic about the subject. This made me wonder whether passion and moderation are oxymoronic; and it also made me cynically think that the drive of extremists makes them destined to overpower the plodding of moderates.

When I was in graduate school, a professor had us read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, and one of the sentences that I highlighted in that book was Pirsig’s observation about being a zealot: “When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s usually because their beliefs are in doubt. You’re never fanatical about something you have complete confidence in”.

Those words inspired me to distinguish between being a fanatic and having a passion.

During my years in the high tech industry, I observed that in negotiating business agreements, many colleagues started from zealous inflexible positions, and this either resulted in no agreement or suboptimal agreements. This crystallized my thinking on what it means to be a moderate. Moderates not only listen to the various positions on an issue, they want to hear all sides because they are open-minded and interested in synthesizing the optimal solution.

After I got married and became a father, I read the parenting book, “Blessings of a Skinned Knee”, and several books on Buddhism. These and other readings made me aware that moderation is a key virtue in ancient Greek and Jewish philosophies as well as in Buddhism – and those realizations made me optimistic that moderation could be a passion.

Since 9/11 I’ve become concerned about the direction of world events, and in particular how the passion of fanatics insidiously crushes the reasoned approach of moderates. This frustration finally concretized my passion for moderation.

As a passionate moderate, I believe that the truth is not obvious so I need to research all sides of an issue. I believe that I can have a tentative, mild opinion about something, but I can’t have a strong opinion unless I develop much more than a superficial understanding of the subject. I believe that moderates aren’t wishy-washy nor are they flip-floppers. Moderates have an ideology and it is an openness to, a curiosity for, and a pursuit of truth.

Being a passionate moderate makes me better at my work and in my personal life. It also makes me a better citizen – in fact it makes me believe in democracy and in being an informed voter because voting is the best way for moderation to prevail over extremism.