In a World of Black and White, Be Grey

Photo by Hassan Pasha on Unsplash

I can’t be the only one, though it often feels that way, who says things like “I can see the arguments on both sides,” “I fit somewhere in the middle,” or, “having looked into both options, I feel torn.”

The agnostics, the impartials, and the undecideds. Those who tend not to fit into either camp — which only becomes more radical of a stance in a world of polarisation and black-and-white thinking.

Conservative or liberal?

Militant social justice warrior or heartless bigot?

Abortion is murder or abortions until full-term, no questions asked?

Religious extremist or hardcore atheist?

Outright COVID-denying anti-masker or enforced vaccine supporter?

PICK A SIDE. PICK ONE DAMN IT!! AND IT BETTER BE THE SAME ONE AS ME OR YOU’RE CANCELLED.

But… but… are they the only options? Why is everyone shouting? Why is everything so black and white?

Grey, glorious grey

Contrary to popular belief, there’s a whole lot of space between the extreme ideologies that tend to be loudest. And it’s totally okay, in fact usually much more sensible, to occupy that space. That glorious gaping abyss begging to be filled, while it seems more and more people are determined to grip hold of either edge as though their life depended on it…

(As though their identity and sense of self depended on it, but that’s a whole other story.)

Let’s be honest, extremes, by definition, don’t tend to be very accomodating or balanced. And yet, those of us who are no stranger to admitting we aren't sure, want to research an issue further before establishing a stance — or, simply feel most comfortable in this middle ground where elements of both sides of an argument can be taken or left as desired — are now the ones that seem radical.

How did we get so polarised?

Blame social media, blame human nature, or blame the global pandemic that has completely shaken us up these last 18 months, and who knows how much longer… We should maybe give ourselves some slack for this tendency to jump for one extreme or another — sticking with either the dominant culture or the established and threatening counter-culture in most cases. There’s no one person or group to blame for this, usually. We are still tribal animals, after all, and crave to belong to a clan of some sort.

However, we must open our eyes to how increasingly polarised we’re becoming. Every issue —even, and especially, the most personal and intimate of issues, like gender identity, sexuality, personal health, and beliefs — have become political. Up for public debate and scrutiny.

Of course, merely talking about and even debating issues isn’t a problem in itself. We all have the right to an opinion, and if yours truly sways one way or another then that’s your right. But our private and personal choices of what — or who — we allow access to our bodies, and how we perceive the world and our place in it, have become fuel for hate, demonisation, and societal fragmentation.

So I’m here to say that I’m proud to be in the grey area. So hate me. It’s soothingly muted out here. (Can we have a clan too though please?)

It doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions — far from it, we often have more. So many opinions, arguments, and ideas that we usually don’t feel we align with either of the pre-established polar sides on a given issue.

Unpopular (grey) opinions

Some examples: We may not fully subscribe to a religion, but feel a natural affinity to it, and to the values that some of them teach.

We might take elements of both liberal and conservative politics, and not feel that either side truly represents where we sit on the spectrum.

Here’s a tricky one. We may respect that vaccines work and are a phenomenal privilege of our times, but not believe that an particular experimental type of vaccine, still in the final stages of trial, should be forced on every individual when each has their own health risks to weigh in… (Yes I know this one may be controversial because it somewhat concerns others too — but now that we are advised that those fully vaccinated are still spreading the virus and should still take precautions, it throws the civic duty argument into question too.) This is not to deter anyone from getting the vaccine I must stress, but not to demonise those who are hesitant or have questions.

Overall, we may take fluid, nuanced stances to a whole host of issues — from drug legalisation, to the body positivity movement, to veganism, to natural medicine — while it seems everyone else and their dog has a firm grip on their unquestioning adoration or ardent hatred for all of the above.

Some final thoughts

It can be a lonely place in the grey middle ground. No sense of united community neither in the dominant culture or the counter-culture. Being sort of hated and not trusted by both. Questioning your intelligence, ability to make any sort of decision, or indeed sanity most days of the week…

But I have a sneaky suspicion those of us “in the grey” are quietly strong and pretty darn resilient. After a lifetime of interrogating ourselves, agonising over which side we belong on, and feeling somewhat detached from mainstream narratives, we have developed a pretty impressive level of self-awareness and open-mindedness — maintaining our critical eye and yet keeping it in check.

Imagine a world of grey, where no one claimed to have all the answers. We could all swim in this grey ocean of uncertainty and delight in the fact that there are no absolutes. Every issue has multiple sides, and various perspectives, possibilities, and nuances to bring to the table. Imagine the conversations? Imagine the broadening possibility and tolerance? Sigh.

Being too quick to take a seat on either side of the gaping hole we have dug for ourselves may make you feel a part of a tribe. It may seem like surrounding yourself with people who echo what you say validates you. But I would argue that you may have a little more breathing and thinking space out here in the abyss. It can be a little scary to not be sure, but at least we’re sure we haven’t picked the wrong side.

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I have a few dark stories to share.

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Mina Azaria

Mina Azaria

I have a few dark stories to share.

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