I was born in the middle, geographically speaking, in the heart of the country: Missouri. In my six-year-old head, I could play it all out: our house in the middle of town; my town in the middle of the state; my state in the middle of the United States; the United States in the middle of North America; the pattern extending out to the farthest reaches of the starry universe. As a child, being in the middle seemed somehow extraordinary, magical, fabulous—the best place to be.
Growing up, I came to understand that the middle was also a place between two opposing points of view.
And in the last few years this middle ground hasn’t been so comfortable. I’ve even doubted whether there was a real middle, or just an empty space between extremes. There seemed some pervasive expectation that sufficient force would persuade people in the middle to choose, picking one extreme over the other. It felt like an English speaker trying to communicate with a non-English speaker: If they don’t understand you the first time, speak louder—as if clarity comes from volume alone.
Add the implication that those in the middle were somehow flawed, weak or indecisive and you have bleak times indeed!
Today, I reject this implication and, confidently, I reaffirm my belief in the intrinsic value of the middle. I can be (and am) a political independent with Democratic and Republican friends, social and professional. I comfortably hold some deep and traditional religious values within the context of my more freethinking faith tradition. In matters of public policy I am soundly liberal (soft-hearted) and fiscally conservative (hard-headed). I am a patriot without a flag decal. I am a true believer in things that I can’t see and I think faith is all about doubt. None of these strike me as contradictory.
Being in the middle is more than not being something else. It is not just a non-extreme, a non-position, but has its own, legitimate, truth.
I also believe that there are a huge number of other people in the middle. Just like me they have felt jaded, excluded, isolated, helpless. They don’t see themselves, their values, reflected in either extreme. They see the focus on extremes as a tug-of-war offering limited positive outcomes. A taut rope either breaks in the middle or one side prevails, leaving a significant percentage of players in an untenable heap.
I believe it is possible for a strong middle to break this stalemate with strong values, clear insights, resistance to extreme choices and sheer numbers. I believe in a radical, activist middle that will restore our sense of balance, and I am ready to participate. I believe that being in the middle can, once again, seem extraordinary, magical and fabulous—the best place to be.