One of the ironies of our time is that despite our prolific use of filters to get that perfectly tinted image in our virtual world, in the real world we seem unable to see things in shades other than black and white.
Extreme polarization of views, the absence of nuance and subtlety, oversimplification -- these seem to be the governing dictum of our time. The art of finding common ground and negotiating solutions appears to be lost in today's world, be it in matters of national and international import or in the minutiae of our daily lives.
The current debate over stray dogs is a classic example of this attitude of " if you're not with me, you are against me." On one hand, we have animal lovers labeling everybody who has a slightly different point of view on the matter of strays as inhumane, violent animal haters; on the other we have the people lovers who want to cull every dog on the street without taking the effort to understand the reason for this proliferation of stray animals and the likelihood of its recurrence unless the matter is approached in a well-thought-out manner. Unsympathetic, elitist, people-haters are their preferred tags for the animal lovers.
Where in this debate, I wonder, is the voice of the person who neither hates stray dogs nor wants to be bitten by a rabid one. The person who has a dog or two at home, who likes animals, who is compassionate but who also wants to walk the streets safely. Growing up in a home where often our pet has been a pup rescued from the street and adopted by us, I believe the vast majority of people belong to this largely unheard group.
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But the high decibel debate between the "vaccine" lobby and the "vigilante" lobby leaves little room for these voices that advocate a middle path. Voices that say sterilization cannot solve the problem of aggressive rabid dogs though it can bring down the number of strays over a period of time, voices that propose that dog lovers adopt a stray instead of exotic pedigreed species, voices that want to make clear our dumping of garbage on the streets compounds the stray dog problem, voices that want to say emphatically that abandoning a pet on the street is not done and that people should think carefully about the years of commitment and responsibility that come with getting a "cute pup" on a whim.
Yet these voices which straddle both sides of the debate are drowned out amid the war cries from the fringes. It appears that baring extreme views is acceptable, even welcome, in today's world but the space for nuanced, considered views is shrinking. Perhaps a daily diet of what passes as discussion and debate on popular news shows has led to this view that nuance and complexity are taboo and that unless a view can be articulated in a sound bite, it bears no merit!
Once upon a time common sense and a degree of give and take informed our decisions. Today these are ignored and the concerned authorities seem to seesaw between extreme positions … the most strident voice of the day is the one given ear to. Hardly the most efficient method of problem solving! Little wonder then that problems remain unsolved while debates rage on endlessly.
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It is also clear that many who advocate a middle path hesitate to vocalize their opinions for fear of being caught in the crossfire. The kind of vitriol directed toward anyone with a different take on the matter is enough to put off all but the hardiest of souls from offering their views.
If our goal is to find a solution to the many problems that we face in the public and private sphere, a degree of flexibility, openness to the views of others, civility in debate, and a willingness to negotiate might garner us better results than taking inflexible and hostile stands.
For after all, when the storm comes the reed that bends stands a better chance than the oak that does not.
(The author is a writer based in Kochi)