As my first year back in the States comes to a close, these couple of weeks have been a time of relection. And it comes as a sort of subtle surprise that the defining question has come from someone whom I've lost the most respect for in recent weeks:
"What moderate ever did something truly great?"
It was meant as a rethorical question, but in its simple form it is a good question, and I didn't have a good answer when it was asked. I think that's why it's a good question, in that it takes time to think, to examine and to ponder before getting to a good answer. That process is what makes us move forward - like Greeks of times ancient, asking themselves the questions that made their senatorial debates so legendary.
To answer the question, we have to look at the context. I was noting that what took me aback about America was how divided it was into the right and left, and when I asked about what happened to the middle ground, I received a couple of interesting answers:
1. There is something in the middle, but it's not polite to talk about it.
2. The problem with the middle ground is it takes too long to understand.
When I posed this to someone on the far right, I got the money question of naming a single moderate that ever accomplished something really notable. Which got me thinking.
Strangely enough, I've never been that fond of the non-confrontational stereotypical Asian mentality, or at least I never fully subscribed to it. But what I would sign up for is the motive of such a mentality, that's not just about saving face, honour or politeness. It's about giving time to think, and to doubt, and to see the whole picture. Or it is to me anyway.
Being moderate is not entirely about being non-confrontational, which tends to be more a side effect than the substance. It's about having the ability to question one's own opinions, and to allow new opinions to have time to resonate, and then to seek other ideas in a real curiosity to know as much as one can about the world around us.
People who jump on saying that gun control is either great or a disaster, that there is a God because the Bible says so or that there is no God because science shows it so, those who come out with brilliantly quick retorts that conservatives are blind or that liberals are crazy just to get the last word... these people don't allow for a moment to sit back and give any real ideas the moment in time that they deserve. That's what I think, anyway - and that's the point, that's what I think. It's my opinion, and yes, to an extent, my belief, and it's a little misguided to cloak that as some kind of arena of fact and truth and whatnot. It's my two cents, and you're free to take it or leave it, and I'll only really react badly when people say that I'm not entitled even to my two cents.
Now, that doesn't mean that being moderate denotes not taking a stance, whether it's for or against abortion, gay rights, the war in Iraq, or half a dozen issues that aren't given enough breathing room because people are too busy shouting about the first three. A moderate doesn't have to be wishy washy, or shall we say, "namby-pamby". This a common stereotype, and all stereotypes have a basis in some truth, and there are moderates who are moderate because they simply don't know, which is still a better place to be than those on any extreme who pretend that they do know absolutely everything.
But for the moderates who to take stances, it's about how one puts those positions forward, and whether that person shows a maturity of mind that allows for a idea with a reasonable amont of doubt. It's about whether that person allows for a position that is open to change if we have more information, which must be the case if we are to even pretend that we have the courtesy to listen to new ideas that come our way.
That's why you don't see many moderates making their way into the history books. Because their role is not to etch things immutably into stone, but to observe and to the best of their ability, to act, not react. In our darkest times, when humankind was on the edge of self-annilation, there were moderates, both quiet and outspoken, who above all, thought, listened, and learned. That indeed is the home of the pendulum, the elegant grace of the fulcrum.
And that's why we have any history, and why our history can go on.