To nuance or not to nuance … that is the questionWritten by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For much of my life, I have bought into the notion that our political affections, our religious proclivities, our place within the culture, or our likes and dislikes were the dividing forces at work that keep us at odds with each other. But, as I reflect upon my 35 years of working with people who have a rich and diverse collection of political affections, religious proclivities, diverse cultural backgrounds — and harbor a legion of likes and dislikes — I have come to the realization that this has not been my experience.
I have observed liberal-thinking people and conservative-thinking people actually love and care for each other. I have watched Democrats and Republicans sit around a picnic table at community functions and engage in constructive conversation. I have had the privilege of working with groups that contained people from all economic strata of our culture actually come together and get real things done.
On the other hand, I have had some of my most difficult and trying experiences with people who think, vote and practice their faith in a vain similar to mine. Once, in a testy moment with one of these individuals, I shot off my mouth by saying something very inappropriate to one of my church members who was watching on the sideline: “The only thing worse in the church than a conservative fundamentalist is a liberal fundamentalist.”
With that one salvo I got in immediate trouble with the liberals, because no self-respecting liberal would ever consider him or herself a “fundamentalist,” and with the fundamentalists, because no self-respecting fundamentalist would ever envision the two concepts ever, ever be placed in the same sentence, let alone yoked together as a description of someone’s affections.
So let me first apologize to all the people I offended then (and now with my retelling of that story) with that intemperate outburst that painfully revealed one of my prejudices. But at the same time, this was a crystalizing moment in my lifelong journey of discovery. Into clear focus came this: I nuance. I nuance everything — my politics, my faith, my relationships.
I see a problem; I look at it from many angles. I raise questions, I apply several possible solutions. I look for the wiggle room. Furthermore, the people I consider my closest friends nuance. Some of those friends are rock-ribbed republicans who tease me about my liberal bias. One of my closest friends shares little of my religious passion. But he nuances, and we both can quote chapter and verse of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I even married a woman who voted for Richard Nixon!
At the same time, I have come to realize that the people who give me the most trouble are those who can’t nuance. They cling to their absolutes and refuse to compromise. To do so would be a violation of their principles. I want to respect that, after all, I have principles too. But sometimes we have to give a little here or there to get something done.
What really divides us is not so much our differences of opinions but our “internal wiring.” People who are able to nuance can negotiate. In the negotiation, they might be able to discover the wonder of friendship. People who are driven by a set of absolutes that must be literally applied and enforced tend to be reticent about negotiating. They fear their cherished principles will be compromised.
The Tea Partiers in Congress are a case in point. Chanting “shut it down” at a rally during the budget negotiations suggests that their principles were more important than making the necessary compromises to keep the government open. I suspect the debates ahead will be very dicey, given the fact that President Obama, who seems very comfortable in the world of nuance, will need to work with so many of these newly elected Republicans who cling to their orthodoxies the way a frightened child holds on to his blankey.
In the end, it will most likely be the temperament of all parties involved, more so than the belief systems each party clings to, that will determine whether the problems facing us will be addressed in a healthy and just way.
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist pastor who lives in Bowling Green. Email him at email@example.com.