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Shades of Gray: The World Is Not Black and White

July 24, 2011

Some people live in a black and white world. I can see why they would want to. It’s so simple and easy. This is bad, that is good. This is wrong, that is right. Everyone should do this, no one should do that. But the real world isn’t black and white; it’s an infinite number of shades of gray.

It’s easy to take a piece of advice or an old expression and make it an absolute by which to live your life. But one extreme is usually no better than the other, and the world as a whole already knows this. Money is not bad, even if there’s lots of it. A million dollars, sitting by itself, could never hurt anyone. Many people mistake the original saying to be “Money is the root of all evil.” But what it really said was “The love of money is the root of all evil.” It’s people’s reactions to money that make it difficult to deal with. It’s a gray area. Money can help a poor family pull themselves out of debt. It can also make people do crazy, mean, even evil things to get it and keep it. By itself, money is worthless. When you factor in people, it becomes more dangerous. How much depends on the individual person. Shades of gray.

Guns are obviously more dangerous than money. But, once again, it depends on the person holding it. If left to sit on a table, a gun could never hurt anyone. When picked up by a person with no intent to pull the trigger, a gun is unlikely to hurt anyone, especially if left unloaded. When picked up by a person with a willingness, if not an intent, to hurt someone, a gun becomes dangerous. When picked up by a person with a clear intent to hurt someone, a gun becomes frighteningly dangerous. If left to their own devices, without access to guns, people with an obvious intent to harm others would find another way, so the adage “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” would seem to be true. However, without guns, those people who have only a willingness to use them and those people who do not intend to use them would be unlikely to find another way to hurt anyone. There would be no accidental shootings. Shades of gray.

Alcohol is viewed by some people to be as bad as guns. Indeed, it has had a hand in many deaths. But to say that it is solely responsible for those deaths is to ignore the other factors. By itself, it could harm no one. Only when people choose to drink it, or rather too much of it, does it become a problem. Some people can handle liquor better than others can. For some, one beer is like a glass of water. For others, it’s a ticket to decreased inhibitions and fuzzy thoughts. For those who can handle it, one drink is no more dangerous than that glass of water. It’s the drink after that that causes the vision to blur, the car to swerve, the judgement to fuzz. Does that make the second drink more dangerous or more evil than the first? Does it make the second drink just as dangerous or evil as the first drink taken by a person who can’t handle their liquor? Both people chose to drink what they couldn’t handle. Even if they didn’t know where their threshold was, they knew the dangers and the risks. A glass of wine to commemorate a wedding is considered polite, even honorable. A glass of wine in a lonely apartment with no one to share it with is considered shaky judgement. Shades of gray.

When viewed from the varied perspectives of the entire world, anything can be seen to have both white and black in its moral spectrum. Everything has shades of gray in it. To live in a world of only black and white can lead to misunderstandings, even danger under the right circumstances. To see the world in all its grayness is difficult and frustrating and often confusing. Choices are easier to make when you think there is only a choice between black and white. But overlooking the gray options that are available to you takes something away from the potential of your life and yourself. And it keeps you from fully understanding the world you live in.

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