Monday, December 1, 2008

Can you really be "Switzerland?"

a burden of badges
Originally uploaded by cooliceblue

There are times when we feel the expectation to take sides - that we choose one over the other. We can't support everybody and everything. Our electoral system works that way, and so does our judicial system. Either we vote for someone or we vote for their opponent; we find the defendant guilty or not guilty. It's one or the other. But interpersonally sometimes it seems as though we're better off being "Switzerland," staying out of it and staying neutral to the best of our abilities. That way we won't burn bridges that we might want to cross sometime later.

When a colleague gets fired or a friend separates from a spouse we'll never know the whole story. Even if we want to choose a side we don't have enough information to "fairly" judge who should receive our moral support. So we're left using other criteria to decide who to gang up on - whether we've known one spouse longer, or whether we like the terminated colleague.

Some situations following these conflicts require that a choice be made. I can send a Christmas card to both of the estranged parties, but I probably don't want them both to be over at my house on New Year's Eve - at least not when the wound is fresh.

If we choose not to be Switzerland and decide to join one or the other's "team" we run the risk that later they'll be back together and we will have become the force against which they unite. They will be in the position of choosing their alliances and we will now become one of the choices.

Is it actually easier not to try to be Switzerland? Would we spare ourselves uncomfortable conversations and awkward silences avoiding the touchy subjects? Perhaps we could more easily stick with whomever our primarly loyalties lie and have a great time dishing the dirt with them about the other guy. It's said that men are known by their enemies as well as by their friends. Do we want to be defined in that way?

I guess it's actually easier being Switzerland when you're not tremendously invested emotionally in the situation. Is it better to detach from it all and stand by, an uninvolved observer to the conflict?

I'm curious what you might think about this subject. What are the situations where you've chosen specifically to be "Switzerland" - or have unrepentantly chosen sides?

1 comment:

Jim Poland said...

When my father decided to separate from my mother when he reached age 62, I worked to be supportive of the unsuspecting and "injured" party, Mom. Like so many young children and older adults of separated parents, I eventually learned a balancing act. I showered each with my love and help in the ways that I could and that they would accept (most times).

My sisters put Dad in a box of "unloyal, ungrateful husband" and were uncommunicative with him for years. My brother (the eldest) and me (the youngest) worked independently for years being "Switzerland" for each parent. They both died the same year, still estranged from each other . . .