Being a student of history, I find reflecting to be an extremely useful part of the learning process. From time to time, we ought to take stock of our lives, and our society, and consider what lessons we’ve learned along the way so we can better prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
As the seconds tick down towards 2010, we should reflect upon what we now know about our world, our country and ourselves. In the opinion of this columnist, the lesson of 2009 is that extremism is the graveyard of mankind.
Look at our world economically, religiously, environmentally and politically. Our greatest failures exist in arenas of extremism. Capitalists and socialists sit at the ends of the modern economic spectrum and yet both extremes deserve the blame for current hardships. Deregulation and overregulation cripple economies. Success comes from balance, not eradication of the opposing interest.
Some of the greatest conflict in the world comes when two faiths are at odds. The answer to religious conflict is not to create one international house of God, but for all believers and non-believers to accept that their personal beliefs do not warrant eternal bloodshed. The answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the extermination of one side, but recognition that most people simply want to live their lives and maybe it is not so important where you go to pray.
Environmental extremism is dangerous as well. Pollution is a real problem, but scientific fabrications and economically crippling policies won’t solve it. The solution is to convince polluters they have an interest in a cleaner world. We don’t know what impact our actions will have on our ecosystems, but it is safe to say we’re all for cleaner air and water if the process doesn’t keep us from living our lives.
Extremism in the political world is also very costly. Our society has become obsessed with left and right, liberal and conservative. Our leaders see a problem and use it to drive a wedge through the country. We can all get behind most of the proposed changes to health care. Many of them are simple, common sense changes. But, we’ve become so obsessed with winning we lose sight of what we actually agree on. Honest disagreements are good for our republic, but bickering to score political points isn’t.
So while extremism is the graveyard of mankind, it is important to reflect on something else history has taught us. None of this is terribly new. We’ve faced tougher times and religions have been more polarized. Things are bad, but they’ve been worse.
We’ll come up with solutions and things will get better. The lesson of 2009 is those solutions cannot be crafted by extremes. Extremes see only black and white and our world is far more complex than that.
Such complexity lends itself to thoughtfulness and not shallow declarations. We need to learn that the answers are found in personal modesty and understanding that listening to the enemy is better than silencing him.
There is a lot to be said for listening, actually. Those who listen hear the oncoming storm and prepare. Those who don’t, lose everything. It’s easy to take a side in one of the many debates of our time, but it’s much harder, yet more fruitful, to hear all of the arguments first.
So as we move forward to a new decade, let us remember extremism will break us, and we must solve our complex problems with thoughtful discussions and a willing ear.
Yet, above all, in the last 12 months, I’ve learned to have a little faith: faith in myself, in others, in humanity, in justice, in good triumphing over evil and most importantly in redemption. We face many challenges, but at the end of the day, we’ll rise above them. We always do.