Human perspective is impossibly biased. Yet we often believe our ideal state should somehow be neutral. That on either side of neutral, there are immutable states of existence or perspective, naturally oppositional to each other. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life pushing against one idea or another in an attempt to find that state of perfect neutrality. But this struggle to reach perfect neutral frames interactions between people with differing experiences as inherently oppositional: differing forces pushing against each other (forgive my scrawling stick figure attempts at illustrating this in the first cartoon pair).
We all recognize that public and personal discourse has become increasingly oppositional. We’ve factionalized ourselves on either side of this false wall of neutral and are constantly pushing up against it. That act of pushing is simultaneously defensive and offensive (as artfully depicted in the second stick figure pair). We’re pushing against the encroachment of ideas from the other side of the wall, countering the forces coming at us from opposing viewpoints and perspectives. Yet in doing so, we’re actually also encroaching on others, digging our heels into our own perspectives and biases and pushing them towards others in counter-action. This is dishonest; it’s pushing toward that false neutrality.
But what if there was another way?
What if, instead of perfect neutral, we sought middle ground? On middle ground, there’s room for a shared experience in which each of our perspectives exists, interacting with each other, informing each other, reshaping each other and interacting once again in an endless loop of dialogical learning (with a special nod to Freire).*
What if we embraced the dynamics of this interaction instead of focusing solely on the state we’re trying to reach? If we’re honestly working within this middle ground and not simply trying to force our own perspective on the world around us, forcing others to see through our version of an inherently biased lens, then we might discover what it feels like to grow from the dynamic interaction of multiple experiences.
We might find that as you push, I can actually pull. And together, while our experiences and beliefs may be different, the force of us moving together creates a completely new understanding.
* To be clear, this is not an argument for tolerating violent perspectives. Nazis (and their white supremacist, replacement theorist brethren), for example, want to exterminate other experience so shared ground is nonexistent. It removes the construct of coexistence, taking the push-pull to a distorted conclusion of exterminating multiple existences and experiences until there’s nothing left to push back.