Maybe the world really is in black and white, not shades of grey

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on

I used to be adamant that the world operates in shades of grey rather than black or white. I no longer think this is true. If we zoom in on what initially looks like a shade of grey, we may instead find a smattering of black and white.

I admit this is hardly a novel thought–I’m not sure how old the Chinese yin and yang concept is, but I’m fairly certain it has me beat by… 1, 2, 3, 4… yeah, it’s a lot. Similarly, in improvisational theater, there’s an exercise of “Yes, and…” where the group of improvisers accepts what each says as the truth and then builds off it.

Even so, the messaging I received growing up had me believing until almost age thirty that there could only be one truth. Perhaps you’ve heard that “there are three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth.”

Shortly after my first child was born, I struggled with feeling confused and guilty because my child was “alive, and that’s all that really matters,” Yet, I was experiencing waves of intense sadness daily. Then my therapist said the most eye-opening thing to me: “Of course, it matters that your baby is alive, but you know what, how you feel about your birth experience matters too.” BOOM. Blue screen. Restart. Pause for the 90s dial-up tone while we get everything back online.

What? Do you mean to tell me there’s space in reality for both these truths to exist? I mean, yes, of course, my children’s lives matter most to me. I would relive the traumatic delivery for all eternity if that were the price of keeping either of them alive, but after hearing person after person (and myself) say that one thing was “all that matters,” the idea that other things could also hold importance quaked the ground I stood on.

That brief moment in my therapy group started a significant shift in my mindset. Seemingly conflicting things can both be true. It’s not “your side, my side, and the truth,” but your experience, my experience, and the neutral, irrefutable facts. Even each of our experiences can be peppered with opposing thoughts and emotions. I can feel happiness and sadness over the same event, each tied to a separate thought related to the event.

In politics, I try to listen to all sides (definitely easier said than done when I have strong feelings on the matter). I used to believe fully that the truth lay in shades of grey, that between two biased opinions was a middle ground of actuality. Now, I think both sides are often true in their own way. Likely, there are embellishments and exaggerations, but when you boil them down to their essence, there’s room for both to exist.

Until we start listening and believing (if not at face value, then at least at the heart) all sides, we will continue to play tug-of-war to build the solution to only the problems from our narrow experiences.

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