Get in the Grey…

by David King on June 13, 2013

blackandwhite I’m not fond of the night. The darkness is withholding, suffocating, and I get lost in it – lost in the emptiness, lost in the agony and apprehension over morning’s coup. I’m not fond of the day either. It’s too revealing and sensational. Over-illuminated, exposing what the night did well to conceal. I prefer the musings of dawn and dusk; the greyness and uncertainty of twilights and daybreaks. My mind thrives in the transitions. My heart beats in the potentials. It is a life lived in ideals and in-betweens, a life lived in conception.

All metaphors aside, a black-and-white thinker I am definitely not. I remain dedicated to the grey, and happily so. Yet I live in a world of black-and-white thinkers; dichromatic dreamers and the sort.

That’s not entirely true of course. By no means am I alone out here in the grey. But let’s face it, there are those among us who see things only in extremes. The this-way-or-that-way kind of folks, the ones whose thoughts begin and end on the surface, never going any deeper – for to take a leap of any kind is to go all the way to the bottom. It’s either the brightness of the surface or the darkness of the ocean depths. There is no twilight, no mesopelagic zone for divers of a this-or-that persuasion.

Such limiting perspectives are more problematic than you may realize. Progress of any kind, whether it involves the resolution of conflict or the security of civil rights, is only ever impeded by two things: greed (including the lust for power) and black-and-white mindedness. With such simplified thinking comes an exaggerated fear of change, and an inability to perceive potential. Black-and-white minds are locked in positions of extremity, and of all the other possibilities that may exist in any particular circumstance, they see only the complete opposite as the alternative.

Republicans and right-wing conservatives exemplify this type of thinking. And indeed, these individuals tend to score lower on openness to experience, a personality trait that involves curiosity, a preference for variety and diversity, and imagination. It’s also a trait, not surprisingly, that’s related to greater emotional sensitivity. Black-and-white thinkers are none of these things. It is no surprise, then, that conservatives so frequently tout the slippery slope argument when faced with the possibility of change. Gay marriage should not be legalized, because it’s a slippery slope that may lead to marriage between people and dogs, or people and chairs. What!? The banning of assault weapons and machine guns is a slippery slope because it may lead to the banning of all firearms. Really?! Change of any kind is just bad, because it is (simply) different.

For black-and-white thinkers, different is black when you’re white, or white when you’re black, making change an altogether different beast than for those of us in the grey. We live in a world where, despite equal rights to men, women continue to be pigeon-holed as wives and homemakers (see the recent Fox News incident); where decades following the civil rights movement and an end to racial segregation, many individuals still react negatively to interracial dating; where regardless of the legalization of gay marriage in Canada and many parts of the U.S. (and the world), people still believe that there is something fundamentally wrong and disgusting about being gay. (And if you don’t believe that any of these attitudes still exist, you need to get your head out of your liberal social world once in a while.) Such arrogances can all be attributed to black-and-white thinking, and although fundamentalism and religion also play a role, I believe these things are mere proxies for this way of thinking. Greyness is seldom accompanied by such rigid beliefs and morals.

The implications don’t end at politics. They penetrate the tiniest details and musings of our everyday existence. I would go so far as to say that the most successful (and functional) lives require abandonment of black-and-white perspectives. There is not a trauma overcome, nor a rocky relationship endured, without a little grey. Indeed, to overcome adversities (and to grow from them) necessitates the exploration and consideration of alternatives and potentials.

But we can learn a thing or two from the black-and-whiters. They remind us that we live in a world that need seldom be dichotomized, not accurately so. And they show us what it is like to be close-minded, and the potential hazards of such limitedness. They put human progress into perspective by revealing to us what must be overcome – unfortunately, what may take millennia to overcome. We are, after all, still evolving, trapped in a never-ending twilight of biological and intellectual development, and it’s a slow-go. But if survival of the fittest should play any role, black-and-white thinking will undoubtedly fade over time, squeezed out of existence by Darwinian forces who recognize black-and-white thinking for the weaker and less adaptive approach that it truly is.

From the Treaty of Versailles to the abolition of slavery; from the invention of the wheel to that of the iPhone, there are few human feats that have occurred in this world without flexibility, acceptance of diversity, and a consideration for alternative possibilities and potentials. Whatever you do in this life, get in the grey. Give ideals and in-betweens a chance, and leave behind the black and white chains that surely bind you.

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