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Choosing Sides

When it comes to most things in life, it appears that there are usually only two sides.

In politics there is a right side and a left. When it comes to risk there is an upside or a downside and socially you’re either on the inside or you’re outside looking in. You can turn yourself inside out trying to figure which side you’re on at times.

You can sit cozy and warm fireside or shiver outside in the cold. I have learned from practical experience that when you fall off a ladder you can land upside down or right side up. I’ve managed to achieve both which confirms that I am gravitationally apolitical.

There are two sides to a coin and two sides to every argument. Squares and rectangles have four sides, of course, but they’re not as interesting as a rhombus which seems to me to be a poorly constructed rectangle.  Circles have no sides which makes them fairly indecisive which is probably where the phrase, ‘running around in circles’ comes from.

Sometimes our thinking can get so convoluted that we move sideways on an issue while others will refuse to take a stand and remain offside. We can be taken aside quietly to be updated or reprimanded or we can take sides with others in a debate or conflict.

Typically, however, in this brave new world, we have managed to reduce pretty much everything to two sides with little to no neutral ground.

It’s not easy to remain neutral on much of anything these days especially when it comes to opinions. Typically both sides of the issue will attack you for not sharing their opinion. Some see neutrality as indecisive as a circle while others dismiss it as intellectual elitism. Clearly, however, both sides seem a bit threatened by those who don’t take a side.

 No matter what opinion you hold, some folks think that you’re on the right side of the issue while others will think you’re so offside, you’re bloody nuts. This is one of those rules that applies to everyone, no matter which side you’re on.

Sometimes we can be so indecisive about an issue that we turn ourselves inside out trying to figure out which side we’re on. Occasionally we need a swift kick in the backside just to get our heads in gear.

We can’t even escape it in most restaurants where they offer a main dish with two sides. I always find that confusing because the menu tends to list more than just two available sides and trying to decide is almost a difficult as trying to choose sides on an issue.

In the end, however, regardless of the issue be it politics, religion or any of the other issues of the day, most of us choose a side. It can get quite complicated at times. You can be on the right but still be wrong or on the left and occasionally be right.

Canadian politics has a myriad of political parties which might suggest that there are many different sides to every issue but we’ve successfully simplified it to just two; conservatives and everybody else sometimes labeled ‘progressives’. Typically no progressive party actually uses the term progressive in its name, that’s reserved for some conservative parties who self-identify as progressive-conservatives but who are not really all that progressive.

Confused yet?

You needn’t be. In the end all that matters is that you’re either on our side or their side and if you’re on their side, then our side considers you fairly stupid if not an outright idiot.

Back in the days when vinyl records were king, there was usually an A side and a B side to a record. The A side was typically the hit and the B side usually little more than filler. Most people chose the A side as their preferred song but some chose the B side while a few brave souls actually chose both equally.

It’s kind of like looking at the two sides of a coin. They’re actually equal and one can’t exist without the other but one side, heads, gets a design that some think is very attractive while the other side, tails, has a somewhat less than appealing design. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder and so we choose freely which side we prefer every time the coin is tossed; ‘heads or tails’. Some folks pick heads – others tails.

It’s the same with politics and most social issues these days. Many tend to pick a side with about the same careful thought that’s put into choosing a side in a coin toss. Once the side is chosen, there’s no backing out.

It’s up to gravity after that and the gravity of politics these days is fairly grave.

It tends to weigh us all down more than just a bit and virtually all of our choices are based on the side we originally chose. Once that choice is made, no matter how obvious it is that we chose poorly, many of us continue to cling to it despite the fact that it is increasingly self-evident that our choice wasn’t necessarily inspired.

In fact, we often become more committed to defending our original choice than in considering which side of each new issue most closely mirrors our personal values.

Support for our veterans, for example, is one of those issues.

Most Canadians, no matter which side of the political divide we may be on, are proud of our vets and expect our government to honour them and provide them with all of the support they and their families require. And yet, if we have chosen a political party to support that doesn’t walk the talk when it comes to veterans support, we cling to our partisan choice and rationalize the party’s failure without stopping to consider that it is taking us farther from what we actually believe.

It’s the same with most issues.

If we are for small government and chose a party that promised to deliver it but increased government instead, many among us will cling to the original partisan choice rather than criticizing the party for not keeping its promise. Indeed, we will often attack those who do criticize the party because we see that criticism as being directed at us personally.

This is as true of parties on the left as it is of parties on the right. It is also true of religious groups and for most social issues. Evidence becomes less and less relevant as we are forced to continuously defend our original choice – not to others – but to ourselves.

We invest so much in the side we originally chose, that every contradictory opinion or fact becomes a threat to our very self-concept. As a result, we enclose ourselves in a box with very little intellectual oxygen. We become immune to learning new information and making new decisions. Instead we are forced to live inside our box constrained within the original choices we made and to which continue to cling.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. We have the ability not only to think outside of the box but to tear it down and leave ourselves free to make new choices every day based on what we might have learned but few of us choose to do it.

Some may be doing just that in Alberta during this current provincial election where the New Democratic Party, a progressive party, which isn’t really progressive, is now leading in the polls well ahead of the governing Progressive Conservatives which is not progressive either and which has run the province since 1971. Polls don’t mean much, of course. The only poll that counts is on Election Day and with two weeks to go before the votes are cast, anything can happen.

But clearly some folks in Alberta are coming to the conclusion that politics may be a bit more complex than simply making an initial choice about who to support and sticking with that choice come hell or high water for the rest of your life.

And that’s the real issue with picking the side of an issue or anything for that matter.

Circumstances change and those changes often demand a rethinking of some of the choices we’ve made. Unfortunately, many of us continue to prefer to defend our original choice rather than be open to new ideas, new information or simple evidence that our original choice might no longer match our values or what we thought we knew.

Many are quick to call others stupid for not picking the same side they chose but personally, I think the real stupidity is an unwillingness to reassess the choices we’ve made and the sides we’ve chosen. To do that requires you to be receptive to the opinions of others, including those with whom you disagree but you can’t hear what they’re saying if you are constantly shouting them down.

Typically, the louder the opposition to contradictory opinion and the choices of others, the more exposed is the fragility of our own choices.

“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” – Buffalo Springfield, ‘ For what it’s worth

Like the two sides of the same coin, too many of us are stuck on one side or the other and that, my friends, makes us little more than prisoners of our own device.

When we come to the realization that we might just have chosen poorly – it’s usually too late. The consequences of the side we chose become the reality with which we are condemned to live.


© 2015 Maggie’s Bear

all rights reserved The written content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it might be of interest to others

Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear  – ivmaki@sympatico.ca


  • oldwhiteguy

    in politics today truth is always the first casualty. truth becomes mutable. the lie is everything. opinion can sometimes have some truth associated with it but people seem to forget that you cannot have your truth, and someone else have their truth. there is only the truth.

    • MaggiesBear

      Truth is an absolute but we have turned it into a matter of convenient interpretation

      • oldwhiteguy

        i think that was part of my comment. mutable.

  • charlie98

    Please define what a “progressive” is, particularly as it relates to politics. Here’s one possible definition —Government, Politics & Diplomacy) (often capital) favouring or promoting political or social reform through government action, or even revolution, to improve the lot of the majority:—

    Another comment might describe progressive this way —progressive is a term used to describe people who wish to change politics and law to fit the times—

    This could mean that Constitutions, especially when hundreds of years old, or maybe only a generation old, should be ignored since they don’t reflect current thinking. As society changes a progressive would claim that the laws should also be changed, thus what was legal yesterday would become illegal today and vice versa.

    Mao, Stalin, Hitler … could all be considered progressive under a definition of progressive.

    You would assume that “improving the lot of the majority” is the desire of any political party. Any expansion of government is “progressive”. As such Progressive Conservatives in Alberta have successfully accomplished this by inserting themselves in all aspects of an Albertans life. To suggest Allison Redford and her policies were not “progressive” you have to ignore some of what she did.

    Equally interesting to discuss is why “liberals” want to be called “progressives”, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    • MaggiesBear

      I have no idea what a progressive is anymore. It used to simply mean that you were adaptable to changing conditions — even sometimes ahead of the curve. In the political world Conservative parties like to label the left as progressives as if it’s a dirty word but then they go ahead and add it to the name of some of their own parties. The parties on the left like to think of themselves as progressive but would never dream of using the word progressive in their party names. To be completely honest, I don’t find either side of the great political divide to be all that progressive — regressive might be a better description..

    • oldwhiteguy

      I think you should start with American progressivism . It was, to quote Jonah Goldberg, “the moralistic social crusade from which modern liberals proudly claim descent–it is in some respects the major source of the fascist ideas applied in Europe by Mussolini and Hitler”.

      • charlie98

        “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

        Progressive is about defining what justice for all is and implementation thereof regardless of method —the end justifies the means—. Populations that want cradle to grave government, again regardless of consequences, are excellent targets for progressives who want to enact their agendas.

        Given that progressives are always looking out for justice for all any opposition is clearly not looking out for you and is to be demonized and the perpetrators possibly incarcerated — just ask David Suzuki about those who don’t believe his climate prognostications —.

        Defining justice is also the sole responsibly of progressives. Equal opportunity, equal outcome, all people are equal … are all opportunities for progressives to further their agenda by any means necessary regardless of consequence.

        Fascism and Communism clearly are progressive, what a legacy!

        edit – noteI have tried to use italics and bold with no success. I’m on a mac using Safari.

        • MaggiesBear

          Can’t help you there. I don’t know how to use italics or bold in the comments section either. Sorry.

          • charlie98

            assuming you are using DISQUS then should work I’ve used html strong for should work and it seems to have worked

        • oldwhiteguy

          it does seem to me that progressives can be defines as socialists, fascists, communists, just about any group that thinks they should control a freeman.