A few month back, I wrote a post here called “Navigating the Nuance: Universal Spiritual Principles and Politics” that discussed the importance of being willing to look into some of the nuances of life, specifically the crossroads of politics and spirituality (if you haven’t read it already, it is definitely worth the read). Today, we are looking at a sort “part II” to that post.
Writing that post seems like soooo long ago, as if the whole world has changed since then. Maybe it has. Navigating the nuance seems to mean something so different today than just a few short months ago.
What even is nuance? For our purposes nuance is understanding that life is not always black and white. Just because my experience was one way doesn’t mean it was that way for everybody else. There are so many different shades of life which are all worthy of being recognized and celebrated.
Everything in the original post still holds true (maybe even more so today), yet there seems to be a whole other level of nuance in existence now that seems to show up everywhere.
To understand where we are going in this post let’s take a step back for a moment for some context. Imagine yourself, for a moment, in the 1990’s. At the time there was a social and societal narrative that said life “should” look a certain way. It came at us from all over. The media painted life in a particular way. Movies and TV all showed it. The message was pretty clear, “if you worked hard enough, you too could have this life.” Whether that was true or not almost doesn’t matter. What is important is that a lot of people believed it.
This perspective gave an illusion that life was cut and dry - work hard, get the thing. Seems simple, right? Well, turns out it doesn’t really work that way.
Fast forward back to today and what has become more and more clear is that this “black and white” thinking, while never really true, may have been effective for those privileged enough to experience it that way. However, for a growing percentage of the population, that never worked. Hard work was never the solution to obtain the picture perfect life.
Well, since then a lot of life has happened and a growing number of people have realized that whole idea ain’t it! If hard work got your the dream most people would have it by now.
Along with this realization has come the uncovering of a vastness of nuance. It’s easy to look back and think, “Life was simpler then.” Turns out our brains are actually wired to perceive the past as being much nicer than it really was.
But here’s the thing… if we believe life is simple, then we don’t need a whole lot of nuance. But, life is not simple most of the time - especially in the places where we often want to think it is. The flip side is, if life is not simple and seems to be getting more and more complicated, then nuance is intricate and necessary.
Ok, so now that we’re all caught up… why are we talking about this again? Well, navigating the nuance today is critical for some obvious and not so obvious reason.
It is really easy to lean on “the way it has always been.” It is easy to depend on “simple.” Our human tendency seems to really want what is comfortable, what is familiar. It provides a certain level of understanding and a perception that things are under control. It is a simplified way of dealing with things that would otherwise be uncomfortable or even scary. So, being human, we tend to come up with the most simplified explanation based on our experience (although not always the most informed or accurate explanation).
Here is the rub…
Absolutism ALWAYS creates dualism. Over simplifying life will almost always negate someone else’s experience. We immediately create dualism: our experience and anyone who doesn’t have that experience.
Negating nuance is dangerous and damaging. Yet, I think we are seeing it more and more…. all over the place. As the world becomes more and more connected, more and more little bubbles of insulation are busting. And, more and more people are getting uncomfortable with nuances of life they have never seen before. It’s not that these nuances never existed before. Most of us were not previously connected enough beyond our bubble of influence to need to see them.
In short, the view of society from the 90’s that we were talking about before… Yeah, that perspective has used up all of its privilege at this point. More and more people are having to face the results of decades of pretending that life should be working for everybody and its is their own fault if it’s not. When in reality, we have spent hundreds of years pretending we are not all interconnected and interrelated in everything that we do in the world.
And all of this stems from understanding nuance. It is critical to recognize and understand the nuance of how our lives intersect with the lives of others; how we influence the world around us; how our histories intertwine; how it’s nots either/or.
Here is the take away (and how this applies to you right now)
Most of life is not simple and to say it is, is to negate the value of human life - the reason we are all here. So when we look at current events and say something is a terror attack but don’t also take into consideration the past 75 years, or 150 years, or past several thousand years then we end up killing thousands of people thinking it is justified because “terrorism.” Nuance on the other hand gives us context and understandings that anyone… ANYONE… thrown out of their home, essentially jailed, and denied the most basics of human needs and rights (water, food, safety) given enough time will fight back. Nuance says it is not that simple. It is critical that we see people as people; that we understand their story as best as we can. While at times uncomfortable, appreciating the nuance of someone else life is what brings us closer to our humanity. Denying nuance is absolutism. Absolutism leads to dualism which creates the kind of separation and division that start wars.