I have said for many years that I value the voices of the radicals because they challenge our assumptions and can help bring our thinking into balance. Radicals or extremists usually come to the forefront as reactionaries when the pendulum on an issue has swung too far in one direction. Yes, they may overstate their case, or swing the pendulum too far in the other direction, but without their voices we might never question how imbalanced things actually are (because that lack of balance has become the new status-quo).
Similarly, I have always had trouble respecting “fence-sitters.” At best, I’ve viewed them as apathetic. At worst, I’ve judged them as uncaring or cowardly. More recently, however, I have come to think it might actually be wise to seek out the fence-sitters and hear what they have to say when faced with a situation where extremists on both sides are screaming loudly. Here’s why:
- At the very least, if you are one of the radicals making noise, talking with the fence-sitters will help you see how your message is being received by those you are trying to persuade to join your cause. I mean, let’s face it, in battles of epic proportions the people on opposing sides aren’t typically trying to come together. They’re each trying to get their way, win the battle, shoot the other’s argument down. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but seriously, if you’re not convincing a fence-sitter with your rhetoric, you’re certainly not going to convince the opposition.
- Talking with a fence-sitter might help you understand the valid points the opposition is making. Again, if you’re one of the radicals, you probably have trouble actually hearing the other side’s case because your senses are so inflamed against them.
- Don’t believe you could actually be that calloused against the other side? Appalled at the idea that you might be biased, or worse yet, not completely informed on the matter? Yeah, that’s another reason to speak with a fence-sitter. It’s a good opportunity for a heart check and, quite likely, fact-checking.
I suppose at this point, it might be good to mention the specific issues/incidents which have led me to think the fence-sitters might not be as uncaring as I once imagined. One is the racial tension in my own community (see prior posts here) and the other is a horrible situation in a local church which has spilled over into a Bible college I care about (see one article here, and one here … for the rest of the story, it won’t be hard to follow the rabbit trail to find details).
These circumstances have taught me the following about fence-sitting:
- It is difficult to have your voice heard when you refuse to join one camp.
- It is hard to convince people you care about them when you won’t agree with them completely.
- If you want to hear the opinions and insights of the fence-sitter, you’ll probably have to seek them out because they shy away from speaking publicly as they don’t want to be labeled with either side. And, possibly, because they’ve seen how horribly each side has treated those who oppose them.
- Just because someone does not grab the bullhorn, does not mean they don’t have some definite opinions.
- When a fence-sitter is someone close to the situation, and they haven’t made complete enemies of either side, they probably have information you need to hear.
- Fence-sitters often find themselves there because they care deeply about the people involved in the battle. If you want to gain an ally, spark up a conversation with them.