How do you see the world? For many of us the most elementary description of how we as individuals view the world is by using the analogy of black, white or gray. Most people that I meet would simply subscribe to the black and white view; something is either this or that. It is the most comforting and justifiable way of seeing our life, our world and our place in it. To say someone is an asshole is a black or white statement. It is an easy viewpoint for someone to rationalize and certainly very descriptive. If you were to describe me as an asshole to someone that person would have a pretty clear picture in their mind of who I am based on their own past experiences. Sadly, if I were ever to meet that person they would have already labeled me an asshole based on your viewpoint. That’s a rocky way to start a relationship.
If that asshole does something bad to you, you expect it and it validates your perspective. But what happens when that person, your asshole, does something nice or thoughtful for you. Will it change your view? Are you guarded against what you are sure is the inevitable, that your asshole is still an asshole, maybe just not today but certainly their true self will reemerge again in the future?
Why are we programmed to view all experiences as black or white, good or bad? I remember when my children were very little this stimulus was seemingly the only way I could communicate with them or motivate them. It was easy and for that matter effective to control their behavior by reinforcing the good and the bad of life, hugs and kisses were good, screaming and crying was bad. As we get older, others convey their own belief system of good and bad upon us, be it teachers, preachers, or Sunday school teachers. Everyone seemingly has their own interruption of what is good and bad. It’s no wonder so many of us are screwed up.
Our individual societies are also reflective of our understanding of good and bad: white, black, Asian, Hispanic, middle eastern, even Lutheran, Catholic, Amish all whittle down and narrow our views and precepts. To live in a black or white world is to live in a world of extreme contrasts, a world filled with villains and heroes, a world left unbalanced with little hope of ever finding any equilibrium.
American politics is a wonderful example of the black and white world. Depending on which party you affiliate yourself with there is rarely, if ever, any gray area among the prevailing parties, or as President John Adams noted “In politics the middle way is none at all.” The divide between the two parties today is a cavernous gully that once in a blue moon will be traversed by some brave soul, labeled by both sides as a moderate, who rarely survives the journey or at the very least gets reelected. Big government, little government, high taxes, low taxes, spending, immigration, abortion, pray in school, gun control, gay marriage, and on and on are all black and white issues that are debated ad nauseam. The ongoing deliberation of these issues has stifled our growth, our progress and our future with very little relief in sight. Even the so called alternative parties such as the Green or Libertarian Parties don’t operate with a true sense of balance as they would have you believe. They are simply just another option in an otherwise static arena.
The color gray is made by equal parts of the color black and the color white, equal parts. It’s a simple shade and though the term gray has a gloomy negative connotation it is a balanced hue made from two extremes. I strive to view this world, my world, as gray, not through “rose colored” glasses as I am accused of from time to time. Certainly some days are easier than others to maintain that balance but I typically understand two things about all situations I find myself in, it could be worse or it could be better. Absolute joy is a fleeting, though intoxicating experience. My suffering arises from my attachment to this sensation. Grasping and clinging to joy makes the inevitable fall a longer and more painful journey. Likewise, holding joy on a pedestal makes the climb from suffering seem endless.
Let go of your opinions and your judgments. Remove the labels you attach to people and situations. Understand that what you believe to be true is simply not a view or belief that is always shared by the rest of the world. Why fight to the point of alienating others to prove we are right and they are wrong? As His Holiness the Dalai Lama pointed out “We should never fall into excess in either direction: to be too conservative is not good, and to be too radical isn’t either. The Buddhist philosophy of “the middle way” is to find the happy medium.”
In a world of black and white can you find your place in the gray?