Polarity and Duality: Dwindling Debates in America

12 12 2014

In my life, there are many issues that are close to my heart that also generate a lot of debate. But I am never looking to pick a fight, or shove my personal viewpoints in someone’s face. Start a dialogue? Sure, as long as it is reciprocated.


WRPM Lunch LineOne day, in a professional luncheon as part of a fairly conservative conference, I was making conversation with the man standing next to me while we waited in line.


Me: Looks like a great spread!

Gentleman: Yeah, it does. Good thing, too, cuz I’m hungry!

Me: (to the server standing nearby) Excuse me, can you tell me what is vegetarian?

Server: Yes, everything but the bean salad and the chicken is vegetarian.

Gentleman: You don’t eat meat, huh?

Me: Nope. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 11.

Gentleman: You know there’s a lot of overpopulation of deer. If we didn’t shoot them they’d be destroying everything.

Me: Oh, are you a hunter?

Gentleman: Yep. Just went out last weekend and we shot 3 of ‘em.

Me: (showing restraint) Well, I have a lot more respect for someone who actually kills their own meat, and appreciates the life they have taken, compared to most Americans who buy processed food product without even knowing which life it came from.

Gentleman: Yeah. So where do you get your protein?

Me: Do you realize that most Americans eat too much protein? And protein is rather easy to get without eating animals? Or that excessive protein consumption from animal sources has been linked to increase in cancerous growth? You’d be far better off asking about cholesterol levels and risks of heart disease…

Actually, That’s not what I said. Because I’m a professional. I’m not at a conference to get in an argument about my nutritional status, or why my choice to not eat meat is the right choice for me. I didn’t bring up the morality of murdering living beings, or the issues of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are poisoning our land and water, or how artificial growth hormones lead to disturbing changes in your children’s bodies, or how cruel the conditions are in factory farming, or how we could literally end world hunger if we fed people a plant-based diet instead of the inefficient process by which we lose nutrients by eating them second hand. Nope, I just left that all out there, because it was not the place or time.


vegan-label (1)Had I been seated at the same table as this man, I might have gently continued the conversation, but I also had to be careful not to color myself as somehow not credible because of my choice to not eat animals. I was representing my institution, not my personal beliefs. I can only hope that being a ‘nice, knowledgeable lady’ will somehow change his view of vegetarians in the future, and he won’t be so quick to expect a personal attack because of his differing choices. I don’t want vegetarianism to be viewed as some radical, hateful subgroup. I am so much more than just that one label.



stereotypesRecently, I was watching an interesting TED Talk about polarity and duality. Specifically, it was about our tendency in America to feel like we must cling to one extreme or another for any given topic of debate, and that those tendencies like to divide us, often among party lines. The polarity is exactly what causes us to believe in stereotypes, and incorporate them into judging strangers based on very limited information.


My mind immediately jumped to this question: “Why are we so polarized today?”

entertainment_news_stopimageNews outlets today portray things in neatly wrapped packages: “Pro-Gun” over here and “Anti-Constitution” over there. Or, “Anti-Gay” there and “Pro-Equality” next to that. You never see an interview showing two people representing ‘the middle.’ No, that’s not good entertainment. And that’s what news is considered today, much of the time. Entertainment.


What catches our attention IS controversy. We are drawn to the scene of the accident. It’s a natural reaction- perhaps even an evolutionary need to react to potential threats- and most producers prey on this.


The Middle

Your_Argument_is_invalid_ponyThe reality is, however, that many of us do live in the middle. We are not 100% anything. We are a complex tapestry of social, fiscal, moral, and human reactions. Yet, people want to be able to affix pretty white labels to us, to make it easier to categorize and judge. Well, are you pro-life or aren’t you? It’s a simple question, right?


It seems challenging, in this environment, to find enough space to even have that internal dialogue. I’m not 100% ‘pro-’ anything. I believe that there are guiding principles, but there can always be exceptions to the rules. I may not even be able to fathom, at this point in my world of experiences, what those exceptions may be, but they could exist out there, somewhere.


Redefining the Goal of Debate

stupid debateThis concept of deciding NOT to pick a side, is a tough one for most of us. I’ve been in countless ‘debates’ with family or acquaintances who clearly have set out to pin me up against the wall and prove that my opinion is wrong. They start out with a staunch belief, picking one ‘side’ of a debate, and then push me to explain why I disagree. I will happily engage in conversation for the sake of shared learning and growing empathy and compassion for other viewpoints. So, I typically will accept their challenge, but I refuse to slink to the point of name calling or degradation. When I calmly explain that my position is X, but I’m always open to being convinced otherwise, I am immediately seen as a weaker opponent, and they feel instantly gratified that they have already won. But what did they win?


If you approach an argument or debate, with a goal of ‘beating’ the other person, what exactly have you accomplished? Did you persuade them to transform their own view? Did you feel like you earned a gold medal? Did you get off on the ability to say out loud what you’ve been mumbling at the newspaper every day? Most importantly, what did you learn?


My idea of a successful debate, is one in which I am exposed to something new. It could be a fresh perspective, or a new resource to research. It might be a personal story that sheds light on why this person is so passionate. If all I achieved was espousing my own sense of smugness, and nobody learned anything, then it was a failure, and a waste of everyone’s time.


Delving into Duality

vegetarian1I enjoy surround myself with diverse friends. Many of them have some similar stances to my own, but not on every topic. Some of my friends are very religious, some are agnostic. Some are knocking on the state capitol doors demanding the right to marry, some have a very narrow definition of who should be able to marry their soulmate. Some of my friends are morally righteous vegans, some identify heavily by their hunting traditions. Some of my friends can engage in civil conversations about these sensitive subjects with respect for both sides, and others must avoid the topic at all costs.


keshia-thomasWhen Keisha Thomas stopped the attack on a KKK member at a rally, she saw him not as a man who was hates all black people, but as a man. Period. She knew that he had family, and friends, and although she disagreed with him heavily, she knew that he did not deserve to die. Her actions astonished people who felt succinctly aligned with one side or the other at this rally. She is an embodiment of duality.


If all of my friends agree with me, I have failed myself. I enjoy engaging in conversations about items of disagreement. I like learning about other people’s realities. I believe that there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ which allows me to entertain an opposing viewpoint, despite how passionately I feel about my own. I like being an enigma of political stances, and throwing people off by not falling down ‘party lines.’ If only we could all embrace duality, and realize that, no matter what divides us, our differences do not define us. We can still connect on some level, as we are all human.




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