Tempered radicals are change agents who want to work within the existing system without selling out.
Their personal values are often at odds with those of the dominant culture, so they feel a tension between staying true to their selves while living outwardly conventional lives. Rather than ignoring or turning away from this tension through various forms of escape, they choose to rock the boat while staying in it.
I immediately identified with the description of a tempered radical when I read Debra E. Meyerson’s book Tempered Radicals: How Everyday Leaders Inspire Change at Work.
Tempered: having the elements mixed in satisfying proportions : temperate. Qualified, lessened, or diluted by the mixture or influence of an additional ingredient.
Radical: (esp. of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough. Advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party.
An odd pairing, I thought, but seeing those two words together conveyed the feeling of dissonance I’ve felt throughout much of my life and career – the feeling of the radical idealism of my youth clashing with, and being tempered by the realities and responsibilities of adulthood. And giving this feeling a name captured the challenge that I’ve gradually shifted from avoiding or compartmentalizing, to working with constructively and more consciously.
So in that vein, here are my three New Year’s resolutions for 2014:
I commit to a regular and sincere practice of inner-work in which I question and explore the meaning of this life. I will set aside periods of time for solitude, study and spiritual practice for the purpose of clarifying my highest intentions, deepest held values and priorities.
I commit to studying and deepening my participation in the external world with a renewed sense of open curiosity and beginner’s mind. I will become a better observer and student of how society and nature function and interact. I will more closely examine and question the dominant values and norms of various segments of society, and how they affect people’s lives and our natural world.
Integration with Integrity
I commit to clearly seeing both the harmony and the conflict that exists between my values and those of other people and groups, and between the values we espouse and those that we actually live out in our daily lives. Where there is harmony, I will maintain it. Where there is tension or conflict, I will develop skillful ways of working with and reconciling it without falling into the traps of self-righteousness or conformity. In the midst of duality and opposites, I will seek to realize unity and cultivate harmony for the benefit of all beings.
Being a tempered radical can often feel like a lonely struggle. But Meyerson’s book shares many stories of kindred spirits who are courageously and skillfully working right where they are to make the world a better place.
Are you a tempered radical too?