A Billion Shades of Grey

We need to stop viewing life in black and white

The headlines keep coming, and the reactions to those headlines keep filling our social media feeds. It seems that the battle lines have been drawn; everybody has an opinion and everybody has a team.

You may not want to hear this, but the likelihood is that you, too, have been sucked into this destructive game of Us vs Them. Of Good vs Bad. Of generalization and caricature; a world that can clearly be delineated in black and white terms.

How do I know you have been caught up in this game? Because we all have, to some degree; because it’s human nature.

And, if we are ever to co-create any form of unity and understanding, it has to be acknowledged that this game is in play. And here’s how it goes:

  • If someone is on your team, they are the good guys and gals. Everything they say and do is to be commended and accepted. Why? Because what they say or do “feels good” to you. They are right, and so are you.
  • If someone is on the other team, they are the bad guys and gals. Everything they say or do is fake, false, idiotic. Why? Because the opposing team represents opinions and worldviews that make you “feel bad” a lot of the time.

This overly-simplistic view of the world feels comforting to many of us, but it causes several problems. Firstly, it makes us idolize those who champion our views and opinions: we learn to view these people as perfect, infallible and untouchable. In this process, we project all of our personal beliefs and desires onto that public figure; we come to expect them to uphold all that feels good, right, and true for us, as an individual.

Secondly, we begin to demonize those who champion the other point of view. It feels so easy to characterize these individuals in villainous terms; they are wrong, stupid or evil. It gets to the point where you don’t even hear or care what they’re actually saying or doing — if they are on the other team, it feels good to assume that these individuals are always wrong.

But here’s where things get a little more realistic, and a little more confusing.

What happens if someone on your team, one of the good guys or gals, does something that doesn’t fit your view of the world? Something that doesn’t feel good to you?

What happens when a bastion of the left accepts paid speaking gigs on Wall Street? Or a favorite of the evangelical right engages in sexually-predatory behavior?

(It’s ok. This may make you feel uneasy.)

In this black and white world, we are only left with two options when someone on ‘our team’ displays behavior we don’t agree with:

  1. In order to maintain their status as an idol, we find a way to ignore or justify the individual’s actions to ourselves, and to others. In our discomfort, we may turn our anger toward the other side to regain a sense of “feeling good” about our own worldview; or
  2. In order to maintain our sense of righteousness about our team, we begin to distance ourselves from the individual and their behavior. We attack them for not living up to our personal standards; we feel ‘let down’ because they have not lived up to the fantasy of purity we built up around them.

Let’s take things a step further. What happens when someone on the other team says or does something you agree with?

What happens when a liberal leader defends one of your most valued conservative views? Or when a popular conservative expresses agreement with one of your fundamental liberal principles?

Do you recognize it? Are you willing to accept that you share a point of view with someone from the other side? Or are you only able to do so after justifying to yourself all the other ways that individual is wrong?

The fact is, there are seven billion people on this planet. And the vital thing to realize is that not one of them is going to share a worldview that is identical to yours.

It is natural to gravitate toward those who share our general outlook about life, but it is drastically important that we allow those we align with to be multi-dimensional, complicated, fallible and flawed. To be human. And it is equally important that we allow those whom we oppose, to be multi-dimensional, complicated, valid and insightful.

This world, and the people in it, cannot be defined in black and white. And learning to be comfortable in the Discomforting Grey is a vital step in finding common ground, building bridges and inviting in a healthy and necessary discourse. Most importantly, living in the grey helps dissolve the imaginary line that divides Us from Them, and offers us more opportunity to meet somewhere in the blissful middle.

Want to start healing the divide? Here are other articles that may help:

Kim Forrester is an award-winning author, educator and intuitive consultant with over 15 years’ experience as a professional intuitive and spiritual teacher. She combines cutting edge science with traditional spirituality to offer the latest understandings of psi, consciousness and holistic well being.

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