I offered my six-year-old a choice between half an hour of telly and half an hour of being read to the other day. “Can I have a bit of both?” he said. “I like things to be medium.”
‘God, mate,’ I thought. ‘So do I. So do I.’
I am utterly exhausted, nearly broken, by the age of extremes in which we now seem to live. Everything must be not just black and white, but the very blackest black, the very whitest white. It must be all or it must be nothing.
We must have not just Brexit – quite an extreme thing in the first place, the decision to leave the European Union – but hard Brexit. We must not have healthy eating but ‘clean’ eating, when whole food groups are rejected and the others must be forced into narrower and narrower forms of acceptability; raw, organic, juiced, shredded, spiralised, only eaten in conjunction with certain seeds, or standing barefoot in a natural rock pool under a hunter’s moon. We mustn’t just have controversial columnists, we must have people who actively seek to inflame, demoralise and harm. Every misstep or unfortunate facial expression by a politician or celebrity must damn them, their work and everything associated with them for all time. And of course it seems like almost every day there are more people using extreme interpretations of religion to carry out acts of extreme violence.
Why? Why must we always be polarised – or polarise ourselves – in this way? Beyond perhaps some short-term and briefly lucrative notoriety for the columnists, it does no-one any good.
Why was there ever a ‘choice’ between hard and soft Brexit? Why is there not just “the best Brexit” option? Why can’t we admit that a healthy diet, for all those of us who don’t have genuine allergies or medical conditions, just means eating everything in moderation? Why can we no longer listen to people and see what they have to say about lots of things and then take a view on the whole, rather than working off split-second soundbites and images that make good memes?
Is it because the middle way is unappealingly undramatic? Are we such children that we would rather feel we were following a soap opera than have our political, cultural and media institutions operate responsibly?
I feel like my mind is constantly being yanked in one direction then the other. It’s not about whether I end up believing one or the other – it’s about the fact that the increasing amount of energy we all have to put into resisting the pull of each is becoming unsustainable.
I want a passionate advocate of the middle way – of compromise as a sound working principle, not of fatal weakness. In real, day-to-day life, we compromise all the time. With friends, with colleagues, with partners, with commuters on the train (shuffling to make room is the greatest and most vital of all British traditions) because it’s the only way things work in the long-run. It’s the thing that brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people – or at the very least, the smallest amount of harm to the smallest number. It’s not flashy, it’s not soundbite or Twitter-friendly. But it works. Quietly, softly – it works. I would like us to embrace it. Extremely.
Images: iStock, Rex Features