Avoiding the Traps of Extremism
Have you ever noticed how people tend to think that they are right and others wrong? If they encounter or engage with a person from the opposite side they tend to see them as “ignorant,” Neanderthal, antiquated, in the Dark Ages, stupid, not intellectual, backwards, a little slow, ill-informed, bull-headed, unenlightened, etc. The list could be infinite. Very frequently there is so much anger in the person condemning that it is almost embarrassing. You can see this happening with sports fans as they battle it out. We tend to be kind to such fanaticism so we chuckle and give the fans a pass. In other areas it is not so pretty.
In my former life as a graduate student, I had a very crude and somewhat shocking encounter with the world of opposites. At the time, a professor I knew gave me the name of the head of a psychology school that trained future clinicians. This person was known as a contributor to a field I was looking into. I made contact and shared my interests and angles of doctoral research. Hoping to receive a warm and mentor-like response, I was swiftly trashed, attacked, called names, and then challenged to have my views shown they were irrelevant.
To say the least, I was shocked to get such treatment from someone who claimed was training future “healers.” I thought a long time and responded with a kind word pointing out that we all need to seek truth and realize we know little. I often think about that person and hope they were able to move on into a kinder way of treating others.
Perhaps you are not an academic person but you see the same kind of attitude in other areas. It can come up in politics. The person from the Right is angry that “Socialists” are bankrupting our future. The Left accuses the Right of being “heartless “and “greedy.” You notice the same type of scenario in the Climate Change debate. One side accuses the other of falsifying data and using the issue as a ploy to enslave people economically through more taxation. The proponents exclaim that the doubters are “terrorists” and “Flat-earth people,” claiming we are accelerating the end of the earth as we know it if we don’t reduce greenhouse gases produced by humans. You move over to the debate about Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered issues versus heterosexuality. In this arena you get people irate that the traditional institution of marriage is threatened while Gays angrily label them homophobic and take on martyrdom. On the abortion side, depending on whether you believe the human fetus is a bona-fide life or not, you find the vitriol flying back and forth. The possibilities of positions are endless.
In my younger days working in an organization, I used to think I knew what was ultimately right. I learned a valuable lesson from a quiet guy on my team. We would have meetings where we would debate our positions on what should be done organizationally. I was strong in expressing my opinion to the point I could get excitable. My ideological opponents would do the same. This could go on for hours. All the while, the quiet guy was listening and listening, sometimes taking notes. As we would get to the end of our time and seem to still be nowhere, the quiet guy would make a gesture that he wanted to say something. The room became still. We attentively listened. He then proceeded to point out good points and bad ones we brought up. We would not get angry because he was sharing in a calm spirit and we could tell he just wanted the best for all regardless who got the credit. He would inevitably put together a third approach built on all of our good points. We all nodded in positive agreement as we realized that this better position was brought to maturation because of a wise person listening, considering, and then processing the good and the bad in a very respectful way. We all loved this guy!
I am not espousing sacrificing our beliefs or what we feel is truth. Not at all. What we need to do is to be humble seekers of truth and do whatever it takes to embrace that truth. Even if I have to do a 180 degree turn or take a position that is not even popular or similar, it does not matter. I need to embrace truth. How should I do it? I need to be very careful that I do not let my ego control me. You see, ego loves to be first and correct all the time. It loves power over others in any way. If my ego cannot be king and it is shown to be wrong then I must guard from it turning into a victim. Ego loves to say, “I’m better because I suffer more than you.” In taking a position on anything, it is easy to fall prey of thinking I am better than others because of I am better intellectually, suffer more, understand the most, etc. If I do, I just became literally “stupid” because I cannot learn anything anymore. I became arrogant and that will blind me and make me a little person.
If I start to get angry and think derogatory labels for the other side, maybe it is time I need to take personal inventory. It is time to evaluate whether I think I am better and more enlightened than the “darkened soul” on the opposite side. Why not say that the other side is sincere, trying to care, and that it is possible that they see something I don’t. Arrogance is the worst enemy of enlightenment, by the way.
I would like to add that there is a third position that some persons take. It is commonly referred to as the Moderate position. It is taking the middle position on anything. Sometimes these individuals take the Moderate position because they either don’t care, are tired of the debate, are lazy, or because they like to pride themselves in being more objective and balanced because they see ALL sides. Really? Maybe you see two sides but could there be many more sides than the ones you see? Even Moderates can be arrogant and close-minded in holding to their position and seeing their position as the only right perspective. Ever heard of an “extreme-Moderate?” You heard it here. Any position a person can take can be held vehemently with anger and great reaction. Moderates are not necessarily innocent and can be just as extreme in their position as those persons at both ends of a spectrum.
In conclusion, it is wiser to listen to all sides, be kind by being careful to avoid losing control through anger and name-calling, and then realize that by being humble before a whole unknown Universe there might be hope for you and me to obtain some greater truth.
López De Victoria, S. (2011). Avoiding the Traps of Extremism. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/10/07/avoiding-the-traps-of-extremism/