Seeing Color in a Black & White World

Girls face partially in black and white and partially painted in bright colors
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Living in a Black & White world is easy if you want someone else to tell you what to do, how to act or think. But if you see in color, like I do, it’s not easy at all.

I first realized that I viewed things differently as a High School Junior in Debate class. I was the “swing man” on a three-member team, which meant I had to argue both sides of any assigned issue. We had plenty of resources, and even books written just for Debate that gleaned argument points from various sources. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was, in being able to argue both sides, I could see the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. It made it difficult for me to “sell” whichever side I was on.

Perhaps if we were arguing something abstract, it might have been easier. But in the early-1970s, we were arguing the efficacy of President Lyndon Johnson’s socioeconomic reforms. Real people were behind the information we were being fed. I couldn’t handle the cognitive dissonance and dropped out after the semester.

Later, when I returned from traveling in Europe and Israel, the difference was clearer. Where my church friends were all gung-ho for the State of Israel and sending money over to support those who wanted to re-establish the Jewish Temple, I had visited the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. I had seen the devout Jews at the Wailing Wall and the devout Muslims trying to pray despite the tourists at one of their own most holy sites. I had also met many Arab Christians who were stuck in the middle between militant Arabs who despised them for being Christians and Israelis who lumped them in with the Muslim Arabs.

Black and white photo of a man standing among tall concrete buildings
Life without color is dull. Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

When a co-worker was dying of AIDS, my mom and I were the only ones who visited her in the hospital besides her fiancé and stepsister. A former drug addict, she was clean, working, and about to get married when the disease struck. I held her hand as she labored to breath with the oxygen tube down her throat. The vibrant, laughing, learning woman I’d known hadn’t deserved this, and neither did anyone else.

In the middle of my own dark period, I went to stay with a friend for the summer. She was having her own issues, and it quickly became apparent that her way was the only way. Our final argument started because she was watching her Bible Study on TV and didn’t want to tell me where she’d put my box of medications. Then she told me, if I’d just read my Bible and pray more, I wouldn’t need medications or counselors. Furious, I replied, “You have no idea how much I talk to God!” and walked off.

This was during the same period I was beginning to understand what God’s Grace was all about. So I was astonished, dismayed and flabbergasted that this friend of 20+ years, with whom I went to Bible school, with whom I’d stood while she navigated an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and many years later a divorce — this was the person who felt she could judge my relationship with God? Her world had become so Black & White that she couldn’t see the golds and blues and greens all around her.

Had she learned nothing about the people Jesus had gathered around himself? Tax collectors, fishermen, prostitutes, doubters — he didn’t even have a scholar on board until recruiting Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul. Jesus had no problem talking to Samaritans, lepers, the blind, children and a hemorrhaging woman — all people considered less-than, tainted, unclean, “Them” to the “Normal Us” people of the day.

Labels are a natural way for our brains to organize the world around us to make it easier to navigate:

  • “Leaves of three, let them be.” (Poison ivy and oak.)
  • “Blue colored wild berries are good, red ones aren’t.” (I guess they never had a red currant.)
  • “Stranger danger.” (Yet most abuse, kidnapping and killing is by family and friends.)

Labels help, but they aren’t immutable laws.

This is why I’m dismayed about all the Black & White thinking that dominates our politics, our news, and especially social media.

  • Republican vs. Democrat.
  • Left vs. Right.
  • Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter.
  • Police vs. Protesters.
  • Catholic vs. Protestant.
  • Sunni vs. Shiite.
  • Evangelical vs. Everyone Else, just to name a few.

All of these are Black & White labels that define “Us vs. Them” in arbitrary, often meaningless ways.

Am I a Republican or a Democrat? Neither. Nor do I subscribe to the all-or-nothing attitudes that say I have to vote this way on this issue and that way on that one. People are messy and life is messy. NO ONE party or group has all the answers.

But moving away from Black & White thinking isn’t the same as being color blind.

Seeing the world in color means noting and appreciating the differences without letting them become walls between us.

I can easily get stuck in my head, ruminating over big things and little things. My husband is very practical and has a knack of pulling me back to the real world. We come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, but we complement one another in many ways. I have other friends with even more varied backgrounds and histories. I appreciate their insights and feedback, because it lets me out of my bubble to see the whole bathtub.

So, what kind of world do you see? Do you find yourself on the defensive? Do you feel threatened? Are you already holed up in your castle and waiting for the onslaught?

There’s nothing wrong with being prepared and protecting yourself and your family. But before you pull up the drawbridge, ask yourself: What am I really afraid of? Who is telling me to be afraid? What are they getting out of it? Have I been accepting Black & White thinking because it’s easy? Is that what I really want?

Black & White can be important in life and death situations. It helps drive the fight-or-flight response. But it also makes for a very dull and bleak world.

We live in a world full of color. Sure, it can be uncomfortable at times. But we don’t grow if we stay in the crib. To learn to walk, you need to stumble and fall. A kayaker doesn’t run rapids without getting wet. Regardless of the analogy, Life is change, whether you embrace it or run from it. The more we are willing to acknowledge and open ourselves to differences, the more we can appreciate both the kaleidoscope that is Life and our own place in the ever-changing patterns.

A row of colored bottles in the sun on a windowsill behind translucent blinds
Every morning when I see these, I am reminded of the color in the world and God’s promises. © 2020 Marty Schafer

Grace, Peace and Hugs to you!

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