“Please, do not point your weapons at the sky […] I am not afraid, I am not a coward, I would do everything for my country; but don’t talk so much about atomic rockets, because a terrible thing is happening: I haven’t kissed much”, wrote the poet Carilda Oliver Labra in 1962, when the Missile Crisis turned Cuba into one of the most vulnerable areas for the outbreak of a nuclear conflagration.
Of course, preferring verses to slogans was not well seen, especially at a time when the whole world seemed to be divided into two antagonistic and belligerent blocs. Today that situation repeats itself. The world is broken and polarized, forcing one and the other to take sides. The diversity of voices is less and less visible while the public discussion simplifies complex issues to the point of becoming a debate about unconditional support or rejection – also unconditional.
“Whoever is not with me, he is against me.” That is the password that resounds everywhere, on both sides. In such a polarized scene, it is not surprising that those who do not identify with these extreme discourses – and sometimes also extremists – have chosen to remain silent to avoid confrontation. Talking about peace, serenity and equidistance is simply frowned upon again.
An ancient fable reveals the importance of equidistance and serenity to solve problems
An old fable tells the story of a man who had only one very valuable possession: a ring that he had inherited from his father. One day, he stopped at the riverbank to cool off, but he slipped on a stone and fell into the water. The poor man got a big scare, but when he stood up he found that he had lost his valuable ring.
He immediately became very nervous. He had to find that ring at any cost. He began to scratch the sand at the bottom with his hands, going around in circles. But the more he toiled, the more the water became muddy from the sand. The man could not find the ring and tried even harder to find it, stirring up the river bed.
A Buddhist monk who had seen everything from a distance asked him to stop, but the man couldn’t hear him. He was too nervous and frustrated. He could only think of his loss and disgust. Anger was building inside of him. Then the monk came to his side, touched his shoulder and said, “Stop, calm down!”
The man calmed down and walked out of the river. In a few minutes, when the sand settled to the bottom and the water cleared, he could make out the glow of his ring. Then he serenely retrieved it and went on his way.
This ancient parable shows us the value of serenity and the importance of being able to “get out” of problems to adopt a better perspective that helps us solve them. In fact, in Psychology, when a person has a problem that torments him or a conflict that he needs to resolve, he is helped to adopt a psychological distance. That distance serves to calm the emotions that do not allow him to see more clearly what is happening. It serves to dissipate frustration and anger, giving way to a more balanced vision that allows you to make the best possible decision.
The reviled value of the equidistance
Equidistance. It is said of the equality of distance between two points, beings or elements. From the Latin aequus, which means “equal” and distantis, which means “distance”, it not only means to be at a certain distance from two points but also to assume a privileged position to analyze these two positions.
Equidistance implies being able to dominate passions in a conflictive moment so as not to blindly believe in either of the two positions, often antagonistic and seemingly irreconcilable, which present themselves as the only possible options at a moment in which we feel trapped, since either emotionally or morally.
Many times that equidistance is confused with disinterest, cowardice or inability to commit. In reality, it is quite the opposite, it is an exercise in maturity and self-determination. Equidistance is committing to freedom of decision. It is to stand firm against the attacks of one or the other side. It is not being manipulated. Do not fall into the temptation of thinking that there is a summum bonum fighting with a summum malum.
Equidistance is what allows us to connect with our deepest values and listen to our inner compass to decide which way to go when the world becomes too chaotic. It is what prevents us from becoming soldiers who fight on one side or another, blindly convinced that they possess the TRUTH. It is, ultimately, what helps us form our own opinion and go beyond polarization.
In fact, polarization, without middle ground, only leads to confrontation and, unfortunately, this is usually resolved by imposing one option over the other, erasing everything that does not coincide, silencing divergent opinions, canceling the diverse culture, simplifying human richness. Therefore, each call for unconditional positioning reduces the possibility of constructive criticism, dialogue and, ultimately, agreement.
On the other hand, equidistance is what favors harmony and sincere dialogue, that which arises from a more balanced vision of the world in which there are neither good nor bad, but only interests and needs that must be put in common. It is what allows us to unite positions without falling into extreme value judgments. It is what allows us to open ourselves to complexity and accept the other, with his virtues and defects, as the other accepts us, with our virtues and defects.
And perhaps, precisely because of all these virtues, equidistance is once again so reviled. Because in troubled times equidistant individuals are not sought, but militants.