Raise your hand if you’ve never stolen anything or broken anyone’s heart; if you’ve never had feelings you weren’t supposed to have and have never strayed from values you were raised with. Raise your hand if the line between right and wrong is always bold and well defined in your day-to-day life and every decision you make is easy, in either black or white.
If you’re raising your hand, you’re lying.
The last couple of weeks have swallowed me whole in contemplation and I couldn’t help but wonder, am I alone in the battle between reason and emotion? Does everyone else lead a life of black and white clarity, never having to question social norms and what society has clearly labeled right and wrong? At what point does an individual’s sense of self risk losing its identity if it chooses to surrender itself, completely, to reason?
Within seconds of my mental journey, it hit me like a bag of bricks. Holy shit. We’re all living in shades of gray, aren’t we? It’s just that no one’s talking about it. Because the truth is, it’s easier to raise your hand and say you’re happy with the rules society has handed you and that you’ve never done an immoral thing in your life; it’s easier to ignore feelings you shouldn’t have about careers, loved ones and in some cases, even about yourself; it’s easier to follow the path everyone else is on and to step out of your house and wave to your neighbors and go on living the way everyone expects you to live.
Black and White is Easy
Personally, this is what I see to be the appeal of following a certain religion. The moral code is handed to you, clearly defining what is right and what is wrong and how you should live your every day.
Because, if you wake up in the middle of the night fantasizing about someone who isn’t your spouse, the book tells you it’s wrong and suddenly any questions you had about it are automatically squished to the ground. You’re not supposed to be turned on by anyone but the person you married.
And forget religion, what about our educational system? To be successful and worse, deemed ‘intelligent’, one must follow a specific path, without straying, and must boast certain grades in order to earn that label. It’s easy: good grades, good college and a good degree means you’re intelligent. Period.
But the vagabond who spent his college years traveling the world, reading books on his own and learning first hand from cultures those other ‘intelligent’ folk only read about in text books, could only hope his own parents don’t disown him – nevermind labeling him intelligent.
And what about for those who, for whatever reason and in whatever manner, stray from their marriages or monogamous relationships? They are automatically deemed evil, a clear distinction between right and wrong marked in a scarlet letter to be worn in shame around a community. You whore.
No one taking the time to question the individual and his emotions or inquiring as to what, specifically, led him to make such decisions.
Because it’s easier to relate right and wrong to what a piece of paper or a book says, than it is to analyze one’s emotions and have to come up with an opinion of your own. Isn’t it?
And we as a society must follow black and white, right and wrong, because of its ease and simplicity, even if it means risking our happiness throughout this ONE life we live.
Doesn’t that sound fucking ridiculous?
Life in Shades of Gray – Because This is Real Life
Just because there is a misperception that everyone in our society, collectively, agrees on concepts of black and white doesn’t mean that shades of gray don’t exist. Though the power of denial is strong, it’s not that strong.
You can wake up 15 years into a marriage and no longer love each other. You can walk out of a store with an unpaid candy bar without realizing it, and not go back to pay for it. You can have weird feelings for coworkers or not love your step-children as you would your own. You can take someone back from infidelity and still never trust or love him the same again. You can decide, in the middle of a random Tuesday, that you want to be with someone of the same sex. Or maybe you can decide you were born in the body of the wrong gender altogether.
Life is not black and white because if it were, divorce wouldn’t exist… but neither would religion. Codes of morality would be engrained within us and different jail sentences would cease to exist, as would therapists and most children. That’s right, not every little baby was born into a definitive decision to be conceived.
The term work husband and wife would not exist, because let’s face it, that’s just a term you made up to feel better about how you feel. You would never get horny on a random weekday on the train, no one would ever need to apologize and most importantly, no one would ever need to grow and learn from their mistakes. Because we blossom from the mistakes we make and the experiences we live through and most of them are lived through shades of gray. And with that, we’d lose a lot of what we know as great art: poetry, literature and other forms of self-expression would cease to exist.
You’re given one life.
And in this one life, you’re surrounded by morality codes and clear definitions of what is wrong and what is right. But we are a magnificent animal, complicated and ever evolving, and there is as much going on within us as there is in the world around us. Why choose one over the other, especially when it means living in a closet and in misery, simply to adhere to what society has predefined as wrong and right?
The secret, the key, to living in these shades of gray is the realization that they cannot be skewed to either end of the spectrum; that we, as a species, have to live in shades of gray whether we like it or not. You can’t force something to be right or wrong because often times, it just is.
The answer will hardly ever be clear, and in some cases, will always be out of reach. There will be times that there will be no solutions to your problems.
So the real secret to shades of gray is this: acceptance.
You’d be amazed how powerful acceptance can be.
Accept that life is a journey and not a mathematical equation. Accept that your life is different than your neighbors and that the complexities of human thought and human emotion will almost always threaten social norms. Accept that there will be times you will have to pick the lesser of two evils and there will be times you’ll need to risk the happiness of others to be at peace within yourself.
We waste so much time trying to figure out what’s right and wrong that we miss out on everything that life has to offer – that one life that you were given. Life is anything but easy but the moment you embrace it for its complexities is the moment you really start living.
Just think about that next time you judge the person next to you because you don’t know the half of what’s going on within them. And I promise you, it’s all in shades of gray.