As a word, neutral can mean various things in different situations. In controversies, taking a neutral position can be seen as weakness, strength, or objectivity. In debate, if we do not take sides and are not the umpire, then silence never helps resolve the argument in favor of the victims. Being neutral encourages the tormenter. Meantime, if there are advocates in favor of the victims and allies of the tormenter, the neutral umpire is more likely to arrive at a reasonably informed conclusion.
“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”–author of “The Divine Comedy”, Dante Alighieri
Some historians point to the officially neutral nations during the Second World War. Despite the Netherlands’ efforts to remain politically neutral, Hitler’s military invaded the nation in May of 1940. The Dutch people were starved, endured forced labor, were repressed, and minorities were sent to concentration camps.
Meantime, Sweden was also officially neutral. In unofficial practice, the Swedes took sides against the fascists. The country’s geopolitical location allowed Sweden to provide soldiers to Finland’s antifascist efforts. They were also helpful in rescuing thousands of Jews from Nazi Germany. Although Sweden did not halt their commercial trade with the Axis Powers, the government used this trade in subversive ways to counter the fascist oppressors. In this case, Sweden was neutral in name only because their unofficial policy took the side of the victims of Nazi horrors.
Meantime, we encounter situations when having a neutral stance is actually healthy for the survival of democracy. For instance, the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment establishes neutrality in regards to religion, the media, peaceful assemblies, and petitioning the government about grievances. As I understand it, federal power in these instances is legally neutral.
“I think a lot of people of my generation are discomfited by the assertion of neutrality in the mainstream media, this idea that they’re the voice of God. I think it’s just honest to say, yes, you know where I’m coming from but you can fact-check anything I say.”–news anchor, Rachel Maddow
I frequently point out the importance of impartiality and objectivity for journalists in the pursuit of our work. In today’s contentious social climate, I believe neutrality is still the best attitude in efforts to inform the citizens. Slanting the news one way or the other only serves to inflame controversy. As many others have said before, a well-informed citizenry benefits from having sufficient and sufficiently reliable information in order to understand and make appropriate judgments regarding issues at hand. Presenting information as objectively as humanly possible allows people to make better decisions. Slanted reporting is best left to political commentators not journalists.
In the end, it is our personal choice and judgment that determines whether or not to take sides in controversies. Will taking a side help or hinder the best interests of everyone involved or should we be outside observers and umpires?
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes retired Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Anthony Kennedy. “Our system presumes that there are certain principles that are more important than the temper of the times. And you must have a judge who is detached, who is independent, who is fair, who is committed only to those principles and not public pressures of other sort. That’s the meaning of neutrality.”