As our society becomes more and more polarized, there is a lot more of – if you believe X then you also believe Y, and if that is different than what I believe in, then we can’t be friends. Essentially saying, “You are bad and I am good.” Group think and sticking to the herd becomes as much a social element as a survival mechanism.
Being someone who lives in a world of grey down the middle, it makes me uneasy. The big picture is really important but it’s hard to do so when we’ve been socialized to be reductive particularly in judging people with blanket descriptions like good and bad or by a single decision they have made.
A murderer is not a bad person. They made a bad decision but there is more to them than that one incident. They are not bad.
A mom is not a bad person. They are doing the best with the knowledge and resources they have and some decisions may have been bad, but they are not bad.
A child is not bad. They may make decisions that are inherently bad or that we see as bad because of the way we are socialized but they are not bad.
It is really hard to see the big picture. It takes time to get to know someone, and it takes a lot of brain space and power to gather, consider and compute all of the information about someone. It also takes emotional capacity to be able to have empathy towards others. These are all hard to come by in our modern day culture. It is easier to place people in buckets (we’ve been doing it since toddlerhood) and it is easier to make assumptions (so much less brain power) and to keep things in the binary because it is more soothing to be able to make out a pattern when the world is black and white vs. black, white and infinite shades of gray.
But the future of humanity hinges on this ability to see beyond one quality of someone. One decision, one attribute, one incident – no one thing makes a person. Should bad decisions have consequences? Yes but only if we are also addressing the humanity in the person and the trauma or circumstances that have brought that person to make that choice.
And as always, it comes back to ourselves. Building the emotional capacity for self-empathy, self-love and understanding will allow us to be able to see others with the same. And when we do that, we can live in a world of gray.
I write everyday because it allows me to voice what is at the surface. Once that is out of my head, I can dig in another layer deeper. My daily writing practice has been my greatest exploration of self and humanity. Sign up here to receive these thought nuggets in your inbox on the daily.