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Leadership Thought #219 – Things Aren’t Always “Black and White”

I’m always fascinated by people who think there are mostly “black and white” answers in life.  It’s almost as if the circumstances don’t matter.   Rather than trying to fully understand the external and internal dynamics of a situation, they prefer to overlay simple explanations for why things do or don’t happen, e.g., “people who don’t work like they do are lazy” or “government is always the obstacle not the answer”, or “everyone should believe in God the way I do or don’t” etc.  There is this brazen confidence in their own point of view and life experience, to the extent that this background is sufficient for understanding and navigating the challenges of others.

The problem is that life is complex not simple.  There are many reasons why things do or do not happen.  At some point we all are faced with difficult choices with no clear answers.   Very often we make these decisions under some level of duress and/or with imperfect information or unclear guidelines.  Life does just happen sometimes and navigating it can be as much of an art as a science.  Moreover, we don’t live in isolation from our fellow human beings and regularly have to respond to the needs, motivations and actions of family members, friends, colleagues and even strangers.  It can get fairly complicated…

I’m not saying there aren’t simple answers to some questions or that some people don’t handle certain situations better than others (they do).  I also believe that an individual’s values and beliefs should be a grounding force in their life and decision making.  However, we could all use some more empathy and understanding at times.  Rather than rushing to judgment, try and step back and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.   People have many reasons why they do or don’t do certain things.  What from the outside looks one way, from the inside might be perceived completely differently.

It’s okay not to have all the answers.  It’s not okay to create shortcuts or simple explanations where none exist.  Sadly, wisdom often requires the gaining of humility through humbling experiences.  We are all on a journey.  What this journey means is open to individual interpretation.  Instead of always seeking simplicity, embrace complexity.  Do your best to learn from and grow through your experiences and give others the space to do the same.   Life is mostly gray, not black and white.


5 Responses

  1. When referring back to my elementary school days, I often tell people that Dominican Nuns raised me, to some extent they did. Those were very formative years for me. Among many things I remember from that time period, was Sister Mary telling us 4th graders that there would come a time in the future when people would honestly NOT be able to tell right from wrong. I think that time is here now. It rode in on the back of some gray creatures called relativity and situation ethics.

    • Thank you for your comment and opinion

  2. If only more than 26 people could hear this..

  3. You’ve done it again. Great read!

  4. Super interesting post. Truely..

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