28 April 2010


"I think maturity is the ability to tolerate ambiguity." - Rita Mae Brown

When I look outside the windows of my home, I see so many colors. I see J-man's red tricycle, Miss-Miss's honey-blond hair, Bubba's bright blue Thomas toy, the vibrant green leaves of the trees, and the flash of white as our neighbor's dog streaks across the lawn to visit with the kids.

But, when I look at my fellow Americans, heck, just about everybody on this planet, I only see black and white. And that bothers me. Because shouldn't we all be existing in a state of gray?

I remember having a long-ago conversation with a friend and I remember him telling me, "Heather, you either have to be black or white. You can't be gray. Gray is evil." And that one comment astounded me. Because I see it the other way around. Gray is the good place to be. To either be absolutely convinced that you're right or absolutely convinced that you're wrong is bad. I believe that is where the crooked path lies.

Allow me to explain. It seems that throughout humankind's awareness of self, we are either right or wrong, on or off, go away or come here, or any variation thereof. We're each like a Bit from the movie Tron. "YESYESYESYESYES!!!" or "NONONONONONO!!!" To my way of thinking, this is not good. If you're one way or the other, with no ability to meet in between, there is no compassion, no empathy for how the other person has come to their conclusion or why they feel that way. Democrats refuse to reason why Republicans want to hoard their dough with lower taxes and Republicans think Democrats are daft for wanting to hand their checks over to the government. A child at school forgets that he still has his pocket knife in his backpack from his family camp-out and yet he is punished as if he took a handgun, with intent. It's all just crazy.

Why can't we see the gray?

Living with toddlers has forced me to live in the gray, in a world of compromise. "OK. Fine. You can watch Diego for 30 more minutes but then I want you to clean up." or "If you won't eat the peas, will you drink the V8 fruit juice?" It's a constant melding of the black and the white into this gigantic gray mush that still frustrates me, but at the end of the day, chills me out. I'm learning to accept that my rights aren't absolute, that they may be right for me, but not for my kids, my husband, my friends, or the rest of the world.

My perception of God is mine and mine alone. If someone asks me what I believe, I will gladly tell them, but not force them to accept. My ideals of how I want to live my life are mine and mine alone and I'll not force you to live your life in the same way. As your friend, I will expect you to respect me, my family, and my beliefs as I will respect you and yours. Past that? It's all gray. If that respect is lost, I will slip away into the gray. I don't expect to agree with everyone all of the time, but I do expect us to find a gray area, that interstate median covered in wildflowers where we can meet and talk about those things that make us who we are. With no on or off, right or wrong, good or bad. We just are. Afterward, we can go back to our sides of the highway, but know we have that in-between space where we get along.

I am black and I am white. But my interactions with all of you are gray.

Unless, of course, you're a bully. Then I'm just going to scream at you and call you an asshole. But that's something else entirely.


Unknown said...

But finding the proper shade of gray is the problem, you know? Democracy is gray. The Democratic process is a graying process - but to me, that is a problem. Because sometimes the black idea or the white idea is the better - the best - idea, but the process makes it gray - and in doing so, we lose the fullest benefit of the best idea. If you know what I mean.

Dave2 said...

I think it's okay to be black or white when it comes to your beliefs and ideals... but when interacting with those whose beliefs or ideals are DIFFERENT than yours, I agree that gray is the answer.

Because gray is respect.

It's not necessary for everybody to believe the exact same way. Nor should it be forbidden for people to express their opinions and try to get people to accept their way of thinking. But the lines between us HAVE to be gray. Anything less makes society unbearable.

Ooh! I hope that Bit is in the new "TRON Legacy" movie!!

Megan said...

Ironically, gray is very "in" this year.

I don't know why it's so hard for some to meet other people halfway, or at least concede that there is more than one "right" way to do accomplish something.

My feeling is that some people simply spend way too much time and energy worrying about what other people are doing instead of actually doing something.

Annie said...

How true it is, but how difficult to find.

sybil law said...

I live in Gray Land. The older we get, I think, we all do. Nothing is 100% white or black - and no one.

Ren said...

When you start from a black or white perspective, it's easy to see gray as an evil compromise that sometimes cannot be avoided. However, when you start from a gray perspective, it's difficult to see what the fuss is all about. No, I don't have a point.

Ashlie- Mommycosm said...

Amen, sister.

I think we should send all politicians back to kindergarten for a year. Maybe then they will re-learn basic things like respect and sharing.

We CAN disagree about policy without disrespecting people. Right?

Miss Britt said...

I think your final line summarizes it beautifully - we can have our own beliefs and be confident in them, while still interacting with others with respect.

hello haha narf said...

you are a wonderful woman. i'm thankful i know you. and i love that you are doing such a fine job raising those kids.

Robin said...

I know for me, I only saw (and accepted that there was) gray when it was more important to be happy with life than it was to be right. After that, all I saw was gray. :)

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

LceeL - No, I know what you mean. Like the whole "It's a bill to save spotted owls but then there's this $1 million tack-on for ketchup studies in Vermont." Yeah. That gray is BS.

Dave2 - EXACTLY! Gray is respect. That's the perfect way of putting it. And I heard that Bit isn't in the new movie. :( But I could be wrong.

Finn - Amen.

Annie - It is hard to find.

Sybil Law - You know, I think we either embrace the gray as we get older, or we get so firmly established in the black or the white that we refuse to acknowledge the gray. I've seen my mom get worse and worse about some things.

Ren - Yes, you do. :)

MommyCosm - I think the politicians' problem is greed. Wanting all the black, white, and gray for themselves.

Miss Britt - Exactly, sister.

Hello Haha Narf - Aw, shucks. :)

Robin - You're right. I think the happy people get and embrace the gray. I think the staunch black/white people, who refuse to see the gray, must be unhappy.

Chris Burdett said...

Well put. I think you're right.

Robert Frost said, "Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence." As a society, we've lost that ability--if indeed we ever had it.

Aristotle said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it," which is kind of the same thing Frost said (except Aristotle said it a couple thousand years earlier, and in another language).

As a society, we Americans can't listen to other ideas without losing our tempers and our self confidence--or at least believing the other is trying to make us lose our self confidence--and we can't conceive of entertaining (that is, seriously examining) an idea that we don't know in advance we're willing to accept. So we have to divide everything into distinct black and white, the ideas we have and the ideas that make us mad, the ideas that are right and the ideas that are wrong.

Both Aristotle and Robert Frost attributed the ability to overcome these sad, shallow tendencies to education, and (being the committed college instructor that I am) I have to agree with them. The black/white thinking schism is most certainly related to our cultural distrust of serious education and intellectualism.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Chris Burdett - OMG! OMG! Chris Burdett! Hey, hon! :) You pegged it with "self confidence." Americans are so sure that they're right and being told they may be wrong from someone else's perspective is such a blow to the American ego, it's unthinkable. How DARE you tell me my beliefs aren't right for you! Ego. Blech. Give me the id any day.

A Free Man said...

It's funny, we were over at some friends' for dinner last night and we got into the predictable discussion of why I wouldn't move back to the U.S. One of the examples that I used is the lack of gray area in the middle. I'm inclined to put a lot of blame on the increasingly polarised and incompetent media, but then something has to feed that beast, so...