How to be a Centrist

Michelle Obama once said that one of the reasons she doesn’t want to run for office is that she is tired of the somewhat nasty polarization of left vs right, Republican vs Democrat.

The American two-party system is something I could never understand until now, but the influence of this dichotomy has spread to Indonesia, at least among its netizens. I was, as a naive netizen, once amused by the idea that the other side is wrong, and my side is right. The other side is irrational, my side is the better educated.

Apparently, both sides have irrational and stubborn people.

What makes it worse is when someone identifies himself as a centrist, it is seen as an act of ignorance, an indication of conformity.

I gotta admit I am a bit left-leaning in a lot of issues, but I also know that some extreme leftists champion ideas that are not grounded, unrealistic. So does the extreme rightist. Seeing this, I no longer want to identify myself with either side. Why can’t I just be me? A person with an opinion, whose opinion can “coincidentally” be similar with either side, depending on the issue.

I can give you one example. People need jobs, people need money. Extreme leftists often instill hate towards rich people and industrialization. Industrialization is inherently good, they give people jobs and boost the economy. What’s bad is unfair pay, abusive workplace, long hour, inhumane company policies. What’s bad is inequality. But don’t hate industrialization. Don’t feel better just because you work in NGOs or academia and not in corporations. Do champion labor unions. Do sue the likes of Amazon.

When a company tries to do the right thing by paying more attention to inclusion or fair treatment, do appreciate their effort even if it is far from perfect. Then give constructive criticism. Don’t go all the way saying things like “slavery disguised in social impact and innovation”.

If you work in academia, insert ethics in each course that you teach. If you’re a business leader, educate yourself on power relations and structural poverty. We know your north star metric is still profit, but at least remember to be a human when doing so. Don’t just say “well, but they did agree to be paid that amount”.

Do not force people to move to the other side. Try to say “that’s one way to look at it” when arguing with people. It is difficult, I know. Social media, particularly, is a place with a lot of egos. I’m not yet at that level, but the way you craft your words could either open or close a lot of doors.

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