on Radicals

Radical  [rad-i-kuh l]: adjective  1) of or going to the root or origin; fundamental 2) thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms 3) favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms 4) forming a basis or foundation 5) existing inherently in a thing or person ~ from Dictionary.com

What makes a radical? When you hear that word, what kinds of things are conjured up in your mind? Are they positive, or are they negative? Or perhaps they are both, depending on who or what you are talking about. Looking at the definition of radical above, many things in society today can be considered radical, depending on which side of the political or social norms you reside. For instance, social conservatives see the radicals as those who push norms outside of social or moral traditions. And liberals see the radicals as those who promote traditional morality or individualism instead of what the government or the collective defines as best.

You might be surprised to know that what is considered radical today by liberals, was once the norm not that long ago. And not that long ago, what many liberals consider normal today, used to be considered radical. Basically, being called a “radical” was entirely dependent on the position of the person who is saying it. Yet, in both time periods, there were and are those who exist on neither side, those who live their lives in the nebulous “middle”, those who don’t want to rock the boat, those who don’t want to draw attention, and those who would rather stay out of the fray. Basically, those who want to be left alone.

However, speaking as a former person who liked to dwell in the middle, what most folks there don’t understand is that most of the “radicals” want to be left alone too. The American colonies for instance, just wanted to be left alone by England. They considered themselves English subjects first, but when it became apparent that they no longer had a voice in their own destiny the seed of rebellion was planted. In that time period the idea of independence and self-governance was a radical idea. And in twentieth century America, people were tired of being restricted by gender or color to a mediocre life of less freedom. They wanted access to the same Constitution others had, which at the time was a radical idea. Going a bit further back in history, a man name Jesus rattled the religious elite by espousing the radical idea that you don’t need to jump through a bunch of man-made hoops to access an eternal God in heaven. History reveals to us that great societal change only happened when those who chose to no longer remain in the middle stood up. People who decided that wanting to be left alone was no longer the safest or the freest option. People who wanted a better future for the next generation. While each of these historical examples reveal the different consequences of those choices – one was war, one was persecution, and one was death – the same action was taken by all: they chose to be radical. And they eventually won.

But wait – one might say that there is a negative side to radicalism. Just look at those radical tyrants of history: Caligula. Genghis Khan. Ivan IV. Robespierre. Hitler. Pol Pot. Stalin. Kim Jong Il. The list goes on. However, are they truly the radicals? Or are the radicals those who left the safe submissive middle and resisted their dominion? I am sure that these bloody dictators did not see themselves as the radicals, but those who dared stand against them. One of the greatest temptations of the human heart is the desire for power, money and control over their fellow man. So then, do we now consider those who pursue this dominion over others the norm and those that fight for freedom the radicals?

Mull that over a bit. And then note that history shows us over and over that positive change only came about when a brave few chose to be “radical” and defy tyranny. Evil only flourishes when good people – absent any righteous radicals to challenge them – remain in the middle, risking nothing, saying nothing, doing nothing. So, let us go to the root of the matter: perhaps the real reason most people don’t like radicals is that they make those in the comfortable middle uncomfortable. And after all, who really likes that?

“We have come to a point in time where using common sense, speaking factual truths and asking honest questions have been deemed radical behavior. While in turn, manipulation, thoughtlessness and dishonesty is often rewarded and rules the day.” ~ Gary Hopkins

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