I was surprised to hear a very profound statement while my kids were watching Zootopia recently:
“Real life…is messy.”
I thought, wow, truer words have never been spoken. I’m realizing this more and more every day, lately. There are the obvious messes like the ones perpetrated by my older boys when they were little (pictured above). But as I’ve been musing about this topic for awhile now, I’ve realized that ALL of life is messy. Not only the carpet after dumping out every chemical in the house into a huge pile of hazardous waste (pictured above); but also science, education, daily life, relationships, parenting, religion, politics, health, happiness, self-identity, and pretty much anything at all. They are all full of contradictions, inconsistencies, and exceptions.
Take one of the most controversial political topics: abortion. One person will say a woman should have ultimate choice over her body in all situations, always. Another will say that killing a baby, born or unborn is murder, always. It’s hard to find a middle ground on something so controversial and with such high stakes. One side is fighting for a woman’s very freedoms, and the other, the lives of innocent babies. Who is right? Who is wrong? Both? Neither? For the record, I am staunchly pro-life. For me, that means that I think that purposely terminating the pregnancy of a human being is unethical, and should be illegal in most cases, no matter the stage of development of the baby. HOWEVER, I believe there are exceptions for which an abortion could be ethical and should be legal. I also think that legality (and prosecution for breaking the law) should apply to the health-care provider rather than the woman seeking an abortion. Likewise, I think most people who identify as “pro-choice” would agree there is a level of development or a reason for termination at which an abortion would be considered unethical. When trying to compromise and find a middle-ground it then becomes a matter of which, of the myriad possibilities between all and nothing are acceptable to the most people. Talk about complex! Even the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints seems to contradict itself more than once:
“Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God…Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.”
Naysayers could say that the church’s stance is either too strict or too lenient, or that it has too many exceptions and that they should be more consistent. But to me, this quote exemplifies the beauty of the church that I belong to. It promotes careful study, thought, wisdom, counsel, and prayer when making big decisions. It allows for the fact that things are usually not always/never, even when they are mostly/rarely.
And yet we, as humans, tend to gravitate toward one extreme or another; even though in reality there are exceptions to almost every rule, most people and ideas aren’t ALL good or ALL bad, nothing is 100%, there are two sides to every story, and the middle-of-the-road compromise is usually best. Of course, even that has exceptions. Some things are just bad: like the Holocaust, and some things are just good: like rainbows. But in everyday life things are rarely so simple or so easy to compartmentalize; which is why we should be careful when passing judgement, taking positions or making extreme statements. The vast majority of issues have seemingly inconsistent or contradictory aspects. There are nuances, exceptions, complications, and extenuating circumstances to pretty much every person, situation, viewpoint or argument.
Being moderate and careful saves you from having to decide which side to take when seemingly good advice is contradictory. Parenting articles tell you not to hover over your kids (lest you raise helpless twits), but to wear your toddlers (lest you raise neglected hoodlums), and not to co-sleep (lest you smother your baby to death) but not to let them cry (lest you be a heartless ice-witch). So how do we find a nice middle ground? The bible speaks of temperance, my mom speaks of moderation, and we all speak of having balance. But why is a happy medium so difficult? I wonder if there is something in us as humans that begs for the extreme? Something in us that wants things to be not only clear-cut and defined, but also radical and exciting. Maybe that’s because no one wants to concede that the answer to a bitter debate is, “It depends.”
When discussing topics I find myself saying phrases like, “for the most part,” “in general,” “I can see it both ways,” or “I understand your point, but…” because good, decent people can disagree vehemently about many issues. For example, I feel very strongly about my political views, but I can totally see why other people feel strongly about theirs, even when they are diametrically opposed to mine. Usually, both sides have some good or some truth to them, which is why we need to refrain from the temptation to jump to conclusions and make extreme pronouncements. When forming an opinion or making a decision we should look at it from every angle and figure out how to allow for the most exceptions and moderation. That may sound non-committal and lame, like I’m advocating we be “on-the-fence” about things, but I’m not. Rather, I’m advocating we be as “middle-of-the-road” as possible.
But it seems like the pendulum is always swinging one way or the other. You always hear people making outlandish claims and taking sides that are such extreme opposites that it seems that they won’t ever be able to agree. I mean, how many people do you know who are truly centrist in their politics? Like really and truly in the very middle on issues like abortion? Most people lean left or right whether they realize it or not. But we need to understand that life is complicated and rarely cut and dry. As difficult as it is, we just have to learn to be OK with the messiness. It’s not being wishy-washy, it’s being wise.