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

September 26, 2011

Free Black and white silhouette of unrecognizable female admiring cityscape with residential buildings in city district Stock Photo

People who think there are mostly “black and white” answers in life fascinate and sometimes frustrate me.  It is as if the circumstances do not 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 are all 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 must respond to the needs, motivations and actions of family members, friends, colleagues and even strangers.  It can get complicated.

I am not saying there are not simple answers to some questions or that some people don’t handle certain situations better than others.  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.  Rather than rushing to judgment, try to 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 is okay not to have all the answers.  It is not okay to create shortcuts or simple explanations where none exists.  Sadly, wisdom often requires the gaining of humility through challenging 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 grow through because of your experiences and give others the space to do the same.   Life is mostly gray, not black, and white.