You’ve probably heard the term fence-sitter before. It refers to a person who never chooses a side, and it has firmly negative connotations. After all, no one likes a fence-sitter.
While it may be true that people who absolutely refuse to take a side can be annoying, extremes are rarely good, and I’m afraid that we as a society too often move toward those extremes. A person has to have an opinion about everything, and if they don’t, well, they’re taking the easy route out. This problem is exacerbated by social media, which allows people to express their opinions immediately, so they don’t take as much time to think about what they really want to say before it suddenly becomes public, forever, and therefore a part of that person’s public face.
The problem is, forcing people to choose sides doesn’t create a better-informed populace. If people feel pressured to pick a side on anything and everything they hear about, especially in a world where the news is a thumbprint and a couple swipes away, they simply won’t have the time, energy, or motivation to research all the problems they encounter. Instead, they’ll make an opinion based on the first article they read or their preconceived notions about how the world works. If not that, they might base their opinions based on their family’s and friends’ views, or the view of their political party. This trend isn’t new — it isn’t new to the Internet and it’s not new to humans stretching back thousands of years — but it’s even worse when we are aware of so many more issues than we were before.
When people are pressured to express opinions fast and make them faster, those opinions are misinformed and far from nuanced. Once they make them, and especially once they express them, the opinion becomes woven into their public face, and in the case of some people, it can be woven into their very identity. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for your opinions and identity to be interwoven — it would be hard for an LGBTQ person to separate their opinions of LGBTQ issues from their identity, for example — but these places of honor should be reserved for your most well-informed, important opinions, and you should stay open to change all the same.
All this brings us back to neutrality. The cop-out, the sitting of the fence, the escape. But, also, the place for the people who realize that they need more time, that they don’t know, that it’s likely they’d be wrong if they did choose a side because they’re not in a position to make a decision better than a coin flip.
Once a person realizes this, they can choose whether the issue is important enough to learn more. If it is important, they can use this position of neutrality as a starting point to search for the truth, or at least the closest approximation they can make of it. This is an important process, and not one to be ignored. We should always be standing up for what we believe is right, but how can we make trustworthy beliefs in the first place if we take a stance before the searching’s even begun?