I have a lot of gray in my closet. Every shade from light heather to dark charcoal seems to be represented by one article of clothing or another. Apparently I am partial to gray. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of black. It’s classic and slimming, and it’s not for nothing that the “little black dress” is an iconic part of a classy woman’s wardrobe.
But gray is softer, more accommodating, both in clothing and in life. Black and white represent absolutes, good vs. bad. Black and white thinking is simplistic, sometimes dangerous. “You’re either with us or against us.” “America – love it or leave it.” “My way or the highway.”
In reality, there are almost always gray areas. Whether in religion, politics, law, or social customs, it helps to consider the individual and the circumstance. In the classic story Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, the character Jean Valjean is sentenced to a life of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. The fact that Valjean had stolen the bread because his loved ones were starving was not considered. In our society, stringent three strikes laws make life sentences mandatory for certain nonviolent drug crimes. There are untold numbers of offenders wasting away in prison for selling or possessing negligible amounts of drugs. Shouldn’t judges have more discretion in deciding sentences based on the unique circumstances of each case?
If we approach the world as black and white, we fail to see each person or situation as an individual one. All Democrats are not tax and spend maniacs any more than all Republicans are greedy and stingy. All people on welfare are not lazy. All police officers are not brutal. Working moms are not the devil. Moms who stay at home are workers too. You get the idea.
I guess we paint the world in black and white because it’s easier, more convenient. But when we take the time to judge each person, each case or situation individually, we see the richness of the human experience and we make friends in the unlikeliest of places. Heck, I even married a Republican!
I choose to live in the gray areas of life and use my gray matter to help me navigate.