Thursday, January 05, 2012

Being Independent Doesn't Mean Ambivalent

I wasn't always an Independent, politically, or a moderate. I was raised in what was then an ultraconservative part of the state of Idaho by very conservative parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles. Exposed to many different and equally valid perspectives in college and law school, I became progressive in many ways before evolving into the moderate Independent that I've remained for the last several decades.

Independents are not ambivalent, as some people claim, but they simply cannot be pigeon-holed into one or the other major political party or ideology.  I'm conservative on some issues, even libertarian, and progressive on others and I find myself a pragmatic moderate when it comes to problem solving.Moderates

According to surveys the vast majority of members of the Democratic Party are moderate so, when my pragmatic moderate side shows itself, many people assume I'm a Democrat.

But when my now-concluded career in visitor-centric economic development would frequently take me into business circles, many people there assumed I must be Republican even though ideologically business owners and managers are equally distributed among Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

I've always found organizations built around orthodoxy, whether religious, political or social, to be more than a bit disconcerting. It just seems that for the vast majority of people who seek strict affiliations it becomes a reason for not thinking and, even  worse as a means to prevent others from thinking and sometimes to try and control what they think.

When I became a Rotarian in the early 1980s I was drawn not only to the purpose of the organization but but also to the fact that a key value of Rotary is being nonsectarian. When I became president of the 200-member Durham Rotary Club, which will soon turn 100-years-old, I learned the hard way that many members confused nonsectarian with being secular.

There is a a huge difference and that can be clearly seen by clicking on the links in the previous paragraph above.

Several members of that club objected to the fact that one of the club’s charitable outreach programs was being sole-sourced at the time to one organization that required that recipients benefiting from their aid had to be proselytized to be Christians.  I took the issue to the Board of Directors and a roundtable of past club presidents and then checked with Rotary international and we determined that, indeed, this violated the organizations nonsectarian values.

I wasn't surprised that a few members objected when we announced the decision to broaden that particular project to include other organizations. Unfortunately, one member even resigned but I wasn't bothered by the controversy.  It seems like that is always been part of my job description.

However, I was surprised at the vitriol and personal attacks expressed by a few members in repeated e-mails including, surprisingly, many by a local government official and fellow Rotarian whom I expected to be be particularly sensitive to the importance of maintaining our nonsectarian position and values.

Frankly, it jaded me a bit on the club and after my term concluded, I drifted away for a few years. Many people get personal and vindictive when it comes to religion and politics. I've never been afraid to stand up to these individuals, but I usually find their stances distasteful as well as the impact their views reflect on the organizations they control.

That experience is just one small personal example that shows why a growing part of our population is becoming independent of religions and social organizations as well as political parties.

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