‘Moderate’ is a word lost in today’s lexicon

You’d be surprised how much we can improve our listening skills when we’re not shouting each other down, and allowing moderate words to help bridge the differences between us.

Words are powerful. They can wound; they can heal. They can promote understanding or incite us to the brink. After opposable thumbs, words are what elevated humans to be the king of the food chain and allowed us to build a global community.

The absence of words, however, also can hold equal weight and influence. In the national discourse today, it is very noticeable that some words are missing. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve been exposed to some of the political banter that has typified the 21st-century’s approach to the presidential election cycle.

Everything is politicized to woo or repulse voters and, in such a climate, certain words (think “terrorist,” “socialist,” “extremist”) are used quite frequently in the never-ending quest for political points.

A Supreme Court justice wasn’t dead an hour before both parties were picking over the corpse like political vultures, arguing over everything from which party had a right to put forward a new nominee to what projected Senate votes would be for a nominee that doesn’t exist yet. Sure, most of us are aware enough of this example to be so fanatical that we universally roll our eyes, shrug it off and chalk it up to politics as usual. But the absence of words is much more pervasive than polarized candidates and television pundits and it’s not just on a national scale. It seems that more and more, American culture is eliminating its appetite for a certain word: moderate.

When, exactly, did moderate become a dirty word? A word synonymous with balance, carefulness, calm deliberation, even-handedness, dispassion, impartiality and judiciousness is now treated like a verbal atom bomb.
“In today’s vernacular ‘moderate’ has come to mean that you have no fixed principles, that everything can be negotiated away because all that matters is ‘the deal,’ ” syndicated columnist Cal Thomas told CNN in 2012.
That certainly has proven true.

And in the age of social media’s immediacy, strong words can be delivered blindingly fast. The minute we think something, we have the ability to express it like a verbal sword that can cut deep. But with these technological tools something is lost — taking the time to think about something before expressing an opinion; in other words, a moderate approach.

The minute someone opposes our own point of view, we label them as not just wrong, but evil, an enemy to be destroyed. We advocate ways in order to not just combat the other side’s opinion, but readily entertain ways to shut down their right to express that opinion at all.

Even on this page in our newspaper, we’ve had readers criticize us for publishing views to which they are diabolically opposed. The vitriol exchanged today is so ingrained that some think newspapers such as ours are exercising responsible judgment by not publishing opinions, columns, or political cartoons that they find offensive.
Democracy isn’t easy, folks. It’s excruciating to listen to someone espouse a view that makes your blood boil, all the while defending his right to do so. That’s why, at least in this paper, we will continue to aspire to the ideal of hosting a marketplace of ideas, where the public can have a thoughtful discourse.

We’re not in the business of deciding what is or is not a valid opinion. Aside from vulgarity and inciting violence or hate speech, we believe all ideas should be on the table — including the ones you don’t want to hear.
We need these words, not to anger us but to challenge us. It isn’t healthy to have our own worldview reflected back to us constantly. In order to evolve and grow as a culture, we need to have all voices at the table.

We need to stop looking at dialogue and discussion as an “us vs. them” scenario. We have to accept that our family, friends, co-workers and fellow Americans at large are not, and never will be, carbon copies of us — and does anybody want that anyway?

Part of what made this country great at its founding was the way we were able to bring people from all walks of life and background and were able to forge a government under which everyone had equal freedoms. We encouraged debate and compromise, as it is the only way to have order for such a beautifully diverse populace as ours. But that patience and grace and, more importantly those words, need to start at home. Don’t just “hate the enemy,” try to understand his view. Calmly, moderately explain yours in return.

You’d be surprised how much we can improve our listening skills when we’re not shouting each other down, and allowing moderate words to help bridge the differences between us.
— HOLLAND SENTINEL