Shades of Grey: Perceiving Nuance in an Increasingly Binary Society

Depression provided me with a stark, black and white perspective on life. Things were good or they were bad. I succeeded or I failed. A tremendous battle between Good and Evil waged within my mind every day. Often, I wondered if a particular choice would damn my soul, or, at the very least, permanently ruin my future.

Life was meant to be endured, and I was meant to protect myself by any means necessary.

It is a painfully accurate way of looking at the world because it is excruciatingly realistic. To quote Andrew Solomon,

You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a gray veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness, and that now you’re seeing truly.

Unvarnished truth terrifies the human psyche due to our natural inclination to create stories. We like things to have a defined beginning, middle, and end. This is one reason why we have so many myths about where we came from, and so many religions concerned about where we will go.

Even living in the middle, we tell stories to sort our complicated, messy, and nuanced world into this and that, right and left, black and white, good and evil. In truth, this contains that, left requires right, black is white, good intentions can cause evil, and evil plans can result in goodness.

It is hard for us to perceive how all of these wildly different things are, in fact, so closely related. So let’s think like a computer and make the relationships more evident. The image below shows white to black using hex codes, which are, somewhat paradoxically, used to assign specific values to multi-variable color gradients. It’s a very depressed method to categorize color.

My favorite is #C3C3C3.

My favorite is #C3C3C3.

It takes 50 individual hex codes for a computer to recognize different parts of a white to black gradient. It is something simple, that turns out to be incredibly complex when perceived differently. Life is even more so.

In The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi writes:

In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.

I try to follow this principle in my daily life, at work, and when I officiate. Perceive with a wide gaze, and see what is there. In that way, I find truth. Sadly, I am ill-equipped to perceive in this manner without regular discipline.

In our connected age, it is far easier to share stories that confirm our beliefs, like posts that reinforce our biases, and type insults to our imagined opponents. Then we start calling each other names; without realizing that they derive from similar sources.

Bleeding Heart Liberal / Red-Blooded Republican - both involve blood.

Fundamentalist Christian Pastor / Orthodox Muslim Imam - both are Abrahamic religions.

LGBTQ+ / Heterosexual - all are about human intimacy.

Inclusive / Exclusive - each derives from the Latin claudere - “to shut”

Who is right and who is wrong?

Who is right and who is wrong?

I invite you to adopt a depressed mindset, and examine something or someone that bothers you. Then step back, squint, refocus, and see if you can find a more nuanced perspective. You will realize that this black and white thinking is a complete crock.

This fixed, and unyielding perspective was bolted onto my mind by major depressive disorder. It took years of study and discipline to widen my gaze. In many ways, I am grateful for my depression because it forced me to see the limitations of such thinking.

Now, I feel comfortable standing within the all the different shades of grey. This is not an easy place to stand; people try to get me to adopt their stories.

When that happens, I remember Aristotle’s quote, while I try to see it all:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

I would add: “It is the mark of a calm mind to be able to entertain a thought without reacting to it.”

This is why almost everything on my blog is in black and white. As an official, I have to know the black and white rules, but I make my living in the grey. The profession requires that I perceive an action, and make an immediate judgment of yes or no, good or bad, legal or illegal. But it’s all grey.

On and off the field, in the office or at home; everything is related in some form or fashion. It would behoove us to remember that when engaged in virtual arguments with digital avatars of other humans.