Get Off The Fence

Apathy is a “pretty sin” in our culture. In Western society, particularly in America, we hide it under a veneer of passion and activism – we share the political memes, write long posts about the evils of our age on Facebook, and debate with our peers about things that are going on around us. Some of the red button issues of our day are abortion, animal cruelty, child abuse, feminism, the plight of the elderly, the abuse of government, you name it. We love to talk about these things. And while discussion and other forms of verbal campaigning are essential in all of these subjects (if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a writer) we cannot afford to let that be our only form of involvement in the world around us.

My own generation simultaneously boasts a fierce spirit of activism and a deeply-ingrained spirit of apathy. The apathy in particular can often be traced back to an overbearing concern for comfort and entertainment. Things of a consequential or controversial nature pose a threat to our “positive vibes” or otherwise “trigger” us. They are obstacles to our personal sense of all-is-well-in-the-world, even though we’re very aware, especially from a Christian worldview, that all is not well in the world.

I don’t think this sentiment is exclusive to my generation, though. Not by a long shot. It may be easier for me to see it and empathize, but it’s woefully apparent in older generations as well, and for some of the same reasons. I know many adults who refuse to watch the news or discuss controversial topics simply because it makes them sad or uncomfortable. This is an extension of the older generations’ efforts (at least in my corner of the world, but I suspect it’s more widespread than that) to build and preserve a wall between facts and values, or public and private, that shouldn’t be there to such a crippling extent.

Weighty subjects that need to be analyzed, considered, and discussed have long been treated as taboo in their ideal version of social interaction. Communication and deeds are restricted to small talk and rehearsed gestures of hospitality. Words are chosen carefully so as to avoid mention of any heated topics. The world revolves around them with its monumental atrocities; but as long as they stay over there and out of polite conversation over here, all is well.

So apparently it isn’t only the millennials who are afraid of being “triggered” after all. But hey, that’s a post for another day.

My generation is different from this in some ways and similar in others. The realm of private issues remains, but not out of concern for decorum. We just avoid them by reminding each other until we’re blue in the face that everything is supposedly relative. “This is the truth for me, that is the truth for them, and you can’t tell me that my preferences are wrong.”

Needless to say, this doesn’t contribute to an environment of civil discussion, critical thinking, and legitimate problem-solving. All around us and in every generation, it creates an environment where people are content to plug their ears, shield their eyes, and demand they be left out of the trouble. It creates an environment where some people loudly promote the most extreme versions of their ideologies while others convince themselves – quite mistakenly – that the path to peace is a stationary one. We often call it remaining “on the fence.”

Keeping yourself perched comfortably atop the fence serves several purposes. I should know, because I’ve been very guilty of this cowardice and idleness for a long time.

For one, it ensures that you don’t make many enemies. You can’t be attacked so much when you refuse to pick one thing over another, or when you can find a way to call everyone right and good – even when they are contradicting and opposing each other. You get to play the gentle and beloved mediator.

Second, to say you’re “on the fence” is to still portray yourself as being involved and educated. It seems to show that you’ve considered all the sides, but you’re wise enough to grasp the nuances of each argument. And don’t get me wrong – this is a legitimate place to be sometimes. You just can’t stay there. There is rarely a side to be picked that doesn’t have flaws or gray areas, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a right answer to be found.

As much as it’s unpopular to say it, there is such a thing as True and False, and it matters. It matters very, very deeply. When ideologies or proposals or claims contradict one another, either one (or both) are false. They can never both be true. Truth is not contingent on our preferences, experiences, and desires. Of course two opposing things can both be true in certain aspects or details – but we cannot afford to throw up our hands and say “It’s impossible to find a solution! It’s impossible to fix any of this!” and then go on orchestrating our miniscule personal lives in a spirit of meaningless comfort, ease, and solitude.

We cannot trivialize and ignore issues of politics, ethics, religion, science, and so on just because they are complicated or because the truth might come at a cost to us. We cannot continue in this cowardice of considering “the fence” as a place to make a home. It may be temporarily laborious to survey the landscape on either side. We may estrange ourselves from the inhabitants of one property when we chose the one that is opposite. But we gain so much more than what we lose when we choose to sacrifice our comfortable ideals for Truth and manifest that truth in acts of justice.

There is so very much at stake in the issues of our age, and they rightfully demand our attention and abilities. The price we pay may be hard discussions or long reading lists – or time spent working for a charity where you don’t receive a paycheck in exchange for your efforts.

But if we really value life, we will give up these parts of ourselves for something bigger than us. We will, in love, sacrifice our comforts to do whatever we possibly can that will assist other people or causes.

Hands and feet are needed as much as words and kind thoughts. Find a way to use yours.

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Luke 11:42


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