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One of our family traditions was to fold a paper down the middle and list pros and cons when trying to make a decision. It was a good habit and taught all of us that we needed to assess the good with the bad, the possibility of success with the anguish of defeat, etc.

Now that we are adults and laughing about the procedure, I learned that it also taught my offspring how to manipulate Mom. They realized by the time they were 6 that if they listed logical “cons,” she was more likely to let them take a chance on the “pros.” In fact, they now admit, as I do, that I am a sucker for an argument that considers not only logic, but recognizes my values.

Something has happened to this once-admired habit. It is now called centrism and that’s like calling someone a coward. A century ago, it was called a mugwump. The original definition, no longer in most dictionaries, mean, according to the Oxford, a great man, a boss, a person who remains aloof, especially from politics. It was from an old American Indian word, “mugquomp” which meant “big chief.”

In the 1930s, the president of Princeton gave it a new definition: a person who sat on the fence with his “mug” on one side and his “wump” on the other, but the word was first used in 1872 for one who ”professes to study the interest of his country before those of his party” (according to Alfred Holt who wrote a book on phrases and word origins).

Being a mugwump seems more and more appealing in this age when the wump seems to be totally in charge. Personally, think maintaining a balance is fundamental to broadening one’s view before jumping to conclusions.

It would be easy to simply refuse to climb the fence and look around. There is security in hunkering down within the fence viewing the same surroundings day after day. But I like to think that this country wasn’t built by fencing ourselves in, safe as it may be. Staying inside fences narrows our view of the world, and separates us from our neighbors. Why not climb on and be proud of the fact that by balancing our mugs with our wumps, we actually have enough equilibrium to jump down and get going.

How I love my metaphors, but let’s get real. Dangerous as it is, we need to consider other views, and we can’t do that hunkered down in our own territory. It may be more comfortable to contemplate our own navels, but sooner or later, we have to stand up and realize we’re cramped in one position, and that it doesn’t matter what the question is, we have the same answer.

There are those who are against anything if it costs money; there are those who believe that any new service is good whether it produces results or not. Somewhere in between is the answer to how we can be compassionate, efficient and effective at the same time. That won’t happen unless we seriously think about a viewpoint or perspective different from our own.

I knew someone in the insurance business who expected to find several views of an accident depending on the angle from which it was observed. Without collecting all the view “points,” he couldn’t have established responsibility.

Can’t we help people and still be fiscally responsible? Can’t we support our right to bear arms and still protect our children and others from people who are ill enough to murder? Can’t we believe in the sanctity of life and honor someone else’s right to decide what is sacred to them? Perhaps only if we firmly believe in individual responsibility.

We need to bring back the political mugwumps who see at a distance and manage to recognize and appreciate various views. Maybe we need a leap in faith, and the joy in jumping off voluntarily before we are pushed.


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