The middle is not a compromise. It’s not a lack of opinion or feeling. It’s also not a passive place. It’s a very active role in holding center while others around you get pulled (sometimes manipulated) to the extremes.
The middle doesn’t hate. It neither puts itself above anyone, nor is it a victim to anyone else. It’s not a place where people are looking to win over someone else.
In the middle, people understand that conflict is inevitable, and that how we deal with conflict is sometimes even more important than the conflict itself. Being in the middle requires reaching across the aisle, or the dinner table, and showing respect, and seeking understanding. In the middle, disagreement is an opportunity for learning, and that dialogue and discourse are the way toward being a peaceful, informed society. In the middle, we find shared values, interests, and goals. The middle is the only place where collaboration and synergy can exist – where 2 plus 2 can equal 5.
The middle is quiet, and right now, that is part of why it is at risk. It’s intelligent and sexy, but in a quiet way. Not unlike Trump supporters in blue states, those in the middle are increasingly quiet about their position because it’s not popular, and holding it is sometimes seen as a failure to support friends and loved ones. That quiet means we have to work harder to hold it.
And right now, the middle isn’t very popular. Those in the middle are being pulled by those on the ends to join in. When waves of euphoria, or rage, or entitlement sweep people up into a movement, saying to them, “No, thank you.” can be seen as oppositional.
Meanwhile, the ends are seductive. It’s liberating to yell and vent, whether one is in a position of power or feeling oppressed. It releases chemicals into the brain that are as powerful and exhilarating as a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning in your home ballpark, or a third encore of your favorite artist’s concert.
But, not unlike an eye for an eye, when we fight and yell and try to overpower, the other just regroups and comes back to yell even louder, or show their power or their teeth to win the next time. Witness America’s pendulum-like swings from Kennedy to Nixon/Ford to Carter to Reagan/Bush to Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump. If the pendulum were slowing and calming, and our swings as a nation becoming less pronounced and adversarial, we would be working our way toward a more sustainable middle. But our swings have held or increased in their wildness between some people and the other people; between us and them. So, in fifty years, is it working? Some might say that this is how democracy is supposed to work. I believe that we can do better.
This week, I had people I with whom I’m very close at both the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump and the Women’s March on Washington, and in various cities. The middle was hard to hold this week. Next week, I invite you to join me. As a country, I think we could use some more people holding the middle right now. I’ll hope to see you there.