Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The World in Black and White

When I was a kid, I thought the world, morality, social interactions, religion, economics, etc. were all straight-forward, black and white.  I was an American, so I would waive the American flag and obey the laws.  I was a good person, so I wouldn't be mean to other people because I didn't want to hurt anyone.  My religion was right and everyone else was wrong.  If you worked hard and spent less, you would accumulate money.  
While it's taken a lot of years of reflection for me to be able to look back and see all of the layers of meaning that mixed together to shape the events in my life, and for me to articulate them now.  But by the time I was 16, life intervened in my naive world of polar opposites.  Experience taught me that morality, social interactions, religion, economics, life is not black and white.  Nothing is completely black and white.  This is something a child can learn, and I believe every rational adult has figured out to some degree.  
You're not either hungry or full.  There are degrees in between, those moments where you could eat if you wanted, but you don't need to.  And sometimes you know you should eat, because your stomach is empty but you aren't at all hungry.  If we can understand our most basic needs as a spectrum, why is it that the important things, the things that matter beyond the individual, are only ever talked about in black and white?  
There is so much about the recent attack in Orlando and Americans' responses to it that disturbs me.  When it comes down to it, the most frustrating thing is the rhetoric of either-or.  Either you support the lifestyle choices of other human beings or you kill them.  Either gun-free zones caused death or banning guns would have prevented it.  Either a person has always openly supported LGBTQ rights or they're just riding the band-wagon of public sympathy for the time being.  Either your opinion is right or its wrong. 
The idea that American politics has been polarized at two extremes isn't radical.  Bias in media reporting is nothing new.  I'm not surprised to see anti/pro-gun, anti-Islam, anti-Christian, pro-American, anti-foreigner, anti-LGBTQ, and Democrat vs. Republican rhetoric being thrown around right now.  What frustrates me, and makes me incredibly sad, is seeing people I know to be rational, intelligent adults refuse to even acknowledge the spectrum of color in between the black and the white.  
Human beings have so many different emotions and personalities, things that make them happy or sad, desires, and preferences.  We are multi-faceted, conflicting, confusing, and frequently confused beings.  We are capable of logic, but we're not always logical.  We can love someone and resent them at the same time.  We can be abused by a person and yet feel indebted to them at the same time.  So what says we have to live and act in this either-or world that's been created for us by the media, by political and religious elites, by lobbyists and interest groups? 
I don't know who profits from this divisiveness.  In my own life, it's strained relationships in my family and among my friends and coworkers.  From the national events I've observed paying attention to the US government, it's caused deadlocks in decision making, violence at civil gatherings, and antagonism across the country that just keeps feeding back on itself and growing.  There will always be some level of conflict between groups of people, at least as long as human beings remain human beings.  With seven billion of us on the planet, it's time to stop pretending the world is black and white.  Beliefs and opinions that try to pigeon-hole people into either-or divisions aren't going to suddenly change the fact that people are complicated and cannot fit into simple categories.  It's worth, at the very least, thinking about complexity, thinking about the spectrum of light that reflect in the color "white" and are absorbed in the color "black".

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