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Everything in moderation, except maybe moderation
Over the last year, I’ve gotten a lot of flak for being too moderate. Why don’t I take a stronger stand? Why am I afraid of pissing people off and being more “radical?” This has led me to reflect on one of my quietest strengths: moderation.
I believe moderation is one of those qualities that must permeate the whole person. Like the Jesuit ideal of educating and caring for the whole person, one of the tenets of our University, moderation involves practicing balance in daily life. This can mean anything from studying, to eating, to spending time with friends and family, to the way you treat yourself, but it also applies to politics.
It is here, in the political arena, where a lack of balance seems to surface most viciously these days, be it between Georgetown students or nationally, where a struggle for power has begun to show us how off-balance we might just be. We live in a highly political city, and our politics have grown decidedly polarized.
America is increasingly a country where the Grover Norquists carry too much sway and moderation, that elusive trait, gets slung in the mud. Compromise becomes a dirty word and absolutes, on both sides, hand more power to fringe groups who turn up their noses when asked to scoot a bit to the center. I’ve had too many conversations with people I enjoy, who become stymied by an unwillingness to say “maybe.” Maybe we don’t see eye to eye, but maybe there is room to consider a different opinion.
I’m not quite sure why “moderate” has become such a maligned little word, except that there’s less glory and more work in achieving it. It’s quite a feat, really. Maybe that’s why mediators enjoy such a lucrative profession. Making two sides sit down and truly consider what one another have to say is a challenge. The foreign sense one gets from someone on the other side of a table, sometimes quite literally, makes one naturally disinclined to concede or seriously consider what another has to say.
And isn’t that what it’s about, after all? Not limiting yourself to a set of beliefs, rules, and people that check every box on your long list of demands, but rather learning to live with a little bit less than what you may want so that everyone can move forward? And without this “maybe,” the system grinds to a halt. Eliminating even the possibility for something, as Grover Norquist demands, leaves behind that small minority that’s actually trying to make changes.
Although we see vitriolic views highlighted over and over again on media outlets throughout the country, I would wager that most Americans don’t feel quite as tied to one extreme or the other as it would seem. I meet few people who drip with the misogyny we have heard emanating from some vocal individuals around the country. And on the other side, rarely do I meet someone eager to throw away the entire free-market economy on which the country was founded. I think you’ll find that there is an expansive middle ground between two extremes, which rarely has its moment in the spotlight.
A lack of extremity does not equate to a lack of conviction or desire for good or for change. I believe strongly in the need for a great many social, political, and economic changes in this country, but I feel they should be achievable through the system of government laid down at the Philadelphia Convention during that steamy summer of 1787. Our system, while often infuriatingly slow, was made to facilitate compromise. The Founding Fathers understood both the beauty and the danger in factions, and stressed balancing the interests of our diverse groups so that we are able to coexist.
As we begin the new school year, I hope we all take a little time to reflect on how we might make space for moderation and balance in our own lives, especially as election season unfolds and we are asked to consider the course we want our country to take. The ability to find common ground with those you may disagree with, to express opinions that enlighten rather than alienate, and to see the good in people outside of their political assertions should not be dismissed lightly.
I don’t fear pissing people off or making a radical way through life. Instead, I practice working with them, and that is difficult. It is a valuable tool to be able to find a sustainable, middle ground. It’s neither fun nor glamorous, but it is a way forward.