Jennifer M. Rodriguez - Family and Relationship Coach
Positively Jen

Solving social issues isn't black and white

In today’s American social culture there is a focus on right and wrong.  What direction does the moral compass point?  Where is the line between hate speech, freedom of speech, and censorship?  Our community leaders are tasked with creating laws and policy that allow for independent freedom without infringing on the rights of others, and lately that includes more and more social consideration than in previous generations.  

Many people have extreme beliefs of right and wrong.  While it is great to know exactly where you stand on certain issues, sometimes that stance can blind you to the issues on the other side of the argument.  This leads to divisiveness and arguing about who is right and who is wrong instead of focusing on the solutions which are somewhere in the middle.  

Traditionally, people have viewed social dilemmas as linear, right on one end of the spectrum, wrong on the other end of the spectrum, and a line in between which divides the criminal wrong from the legally acceptable.   
This model still works for some issues, such as taking another human’s life.  On one extreme end of the spectrum is the person who believes it is ok to kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason.  On the other end of the spectrum is the person who believes it is never ok to kill another, even in self defense or during war.  In the middle, or the gray area, are the people who believe it is ok to kill someone under specific conditions: death penalty for criminals, self defense, during battle, etc.  When creating laws and policies regarding murder, manslaughter, accidental death, death penalty, and war time casualties; leaders must decide where the red line is that indicates when taking a life becomes criminal.   

However, this model does not work for some issues that have no concrete right and wrong such as abortion or gay rights.  A different linear model can be used for these types of issues.  

Using gay rights as an example, there are those on one extreme who believe homosexuality is wrong.  At the far extreme they cross that red line into criminal when they go so far as to abuse, refuse to hire, or otherwise deny basic human rights to those in the gay community.  On the other end of the spectrum are people who believe homosexuality is perfectly natural, but at the far extreme there are those who believe everyone should be gay and try to convert heterosexuals into homosexuals.  In this model, the two extremes are wrong, and the solution to social dilemmas are somewhere in the gray area in the middle.  If you imagine the spectrum bent into a circle, it is easy to see how the criminal areas meet up, and even though the beliefs are polar opposites, both sides are equally wrong.   
   The problem with using a traditional linear model to resolve social issues is that the issues in today’s social culture are not clearly right and clearly wrong.  It takes a shift in thinking to evaluate complex issues.  This trend shows up in all aspects of our lives, as well.  From political issues such as the examples above, but also issues in corporations, hospitals, educational institutions, churches, in traditional media as well as social media.  When people focus on the extremities of issues instead of finding a space in the gray area where the solution lies, the discussions become unproductive arguments, and the focus shifts from what the true issue is to attacking those with differing views, and this leads to abusive language and bullying.  The successful resolutions will be found when all parties are able to step away from their personal beliefs far enough to find the common ground and be willing to have those difficult and productive discussions separate from their personal feelings.   

It is difficult to step into a new paradigm of thinking, but it is essential if we want to have progress as a social culture.  If we continue to nit-pick each other on minor differences with the goal of persuading one end of the spectrum to change their minds, we will simply spend the rest of our lives arguing about problems instead of solving them.     

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