On Bright Lines

One of the dangers in politics is that of bright lines.

On one hand, sharply drawn divisions help clarify issues and can promote action: you’re with me or you’re against me. Then again, they can also be a source of danger. We end up self-wounding ourselves with the very sharpness of our position. Parents know this.

As to this potential damage, two dangers can be seen. There is the trap of self-validations. The emotional energy of the bright line, the noble stance (and it is seductive) keeps us in the realm of these bright lines, even to our expense. A second danger lies in how the bright line transforms the  organization’s self identity.  A bright line constantly threatens to be the defining image of the politician or organization. The bright line not the mission becomes the identity.

Bright lines even when successful, can nonetheless result in a pyrrhic victory, winning a battle but losing the war. Knowing when to draw the line is part of political wisdom.

This certainly looks as if this is the path the Catholic bishops have embarked on. Defining the Church’s mission through the lens of its opposition to artificial birth control would appear to be more of an isolating move, bringing about the very anti-religious tendencies in society they seek to prevent.

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