Being different in a world that requires you to pick sides

I’m going to clarify this a bit. Not everywhere requires you to pick sides. That’s because most of the world isn’t caught up in just two options. It’s more an American thing. We have this strange fascination with only offering two options for so many things. It’s weird given how much we supposedly love freedom and choice. But really, we pretty much love forcing people to choose one side or the other.

There are some exceptions of course — the most important being ice cream, but beyond that, most important decisions are limited to two “practical” sides. Maybe this isn’t true across the board, but it seems true when it comes to things dealing with our identity.

You have left vs. right in politics, Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative.

In religion here in the US, most people see the dichotomies of Christian vs. atheist, or conservative vs. liberal Christian, or fundamentalist vs. progressive Christian.

Even when we get into sex and sexuality, there’s two choices of male or female, “normal” vs. “abnormal”, straight or homosexual.

Of course we know that so often, many people don’t fit into these definitions, regardless of whether we think they should or not. The mere fact that they claim that they don’t means that our A or B choice has flaws in it. We see that in the sexuality discussion. I think we’re aware of it when it comes to religion, although we aren’t good about talking about it, and we seem to be oblivious to this when it comes to politics.

So what’s a person to do when we they don’t fit into the “required” norm of picking a side? Let’s just focus on religion and politics for now.

First, Expect that other are going to try to force you to pick. Doesn’t mean you have to, it’s just that you should be prepared for this. Just realize, this is the norm of society. So many can’t even conceive of there being other options. That’s not a judgement against others, it’s a recognition of reality around us.

Second, decide on a course of action. You can either pretend to go along with this expectation, or you can chart a different course. What might that different course be — looking at the ideal and moving towards it. It might be lonely, and it might raise criticism. But, really, is just sticking with the norm a good option? If we ever want to change the dynamic, how is that going to happen unless there are people willing to step outside of the norm and just start living differently?

When forced to pick sides, you have another option usually. Listen, express understanding, and invite people to see the world differently. Expect resistance and even harsh attacks. But don’t give up. Keep inviting and keep living. Keep moving towards the ideal. When people get tired of fighting and being attacked and attacking and being hurt and hurting, they will want another option. That’s when people who refuse to pick sides will be heard.


Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on February 28, 2017.

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