‘If you’re not actively against <insert issue here>, you’re complicit in its existence and continuance’. This paraphrased statement is a version of the Biblical, “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.” (Matthew 12:30, New Living Translation) concept, which is a way of saying you cannot be on the fence and/or not involved. Pick one. There is no middle-ground. I’ve been hearing and reading this a lot in recent years over many social issues. And the thing is, it’s not technically incorrect. It sounds good. It sounds impassioned. It’s also terribly arrogant and presumptuous.
Another version I have seen over the years is, when a person is elected president or governor, multiple advocacy groups will all say some variation of, “<my pet issue> should have been the first thing you addressed.” I’m sorry, but only one thing can be first. I get that you feel that way, but that’s arrogant.
The notion behind this is that if you’re not working against something, your individual lack of action enables it to continue. Ok. Sure. No dispute there. But, what about the flip side? There’s always a flip side. It presumes that your pet issue is THE pet issue that everybody should have at the forefront of their mind and action, bar none, and that everything else is unimportant in comparison.
That’s the fallacy of it. Fact is, it’s YOUR pet issue. It may most certainly be important, I can’t and won’t dispute that either, but just because it’s close to home, or indeed serious and horrific, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the over-riding #1 pre-emptive issue and that all others should take a back seat.
Women’s rights, human/child trafficking, race relations, abortion, immigration, cancer (and other insidious diseases) research, homelessness, opioid/drug addiction… the list goes on, pretty much infinitely. Some people have one or two of these at their forefront, and they’re all certainly important and need addressing in their own way, but no one considers them all equally, which is wholly unrealistic, or are willing to put forth equal resources and equal effort into all of them at once.
Some might have a child with leukemia, or their mother committed suicide, or their sister was killed by a drunk driver who already had seven DUI convictions, the list is endless. That’s their pet issue at the moment. They don’t have time to be deeply involved with fighting for abortion rights or immigration, even if they do feel strongly about it otherwise. Take any example I mention above, and the same limitations apply. Bottom line, it is simply unrealistic for people to equally address all the ills of the world at once and give them all the fair time that they each deserve, and it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to put everything else to the side and focus on your pet issue because you believe it is the most important.
The beauty of the flip side is that, because people have differing priorities, everything gets attention. We’re not abandoning children to be abducted and/or molested because we had to solve the opioid crises first. All issues are being addressed, as they should be, albeit in inconsistent sputtering fits and starts.
Essentially, if you say this to me, I interpret it as you identifying what your pet issue is, nothing more. You have your pet issue(s), that’s ok, I have mine. There are many things in the world that I see as repugnant, but I don’t have time or resources to give them all the attention they deserve. Do not mistake this for excusing no action at all, just don’t get offended if I don’t give your pet issue as much attention as you would and would like me to. Like everyone else, even you if you’re honest about it, have to choose. I make no apologies for that. It’s practical reality.