In making the six hour drive to my brother’s home for Christmas, I had my iPod on shuffle to pass the time. An older song, popular when I was in college, began to play: “The Beauty of Gray,” by Live. I was deeply struck by the lyrics: “The perception that divides you from him is a lie. For some reason you never asked why. This is not a black and white world. You can’t afford to believe in your side. This is not a black and white world, to be alive, the colors must swirl, and I believe that maybe today we will all get to appreciate the beauty of gray.”
Years ago I had a boss tell me that I saw the world very black and white, with little room for gray. At the time, I didn’t really recognize those qualities within myself. When I was working that job, I was a perfectionist, insisting things be a particular way, and that others follow the rules with totality, not allowing for the gray of life to influence my reactions. Thankfully I’ve grown since then, and as I’ve been on my spiritual path, I’ve come to recognize how gray the world truly is. Holding tight to our opinions and beliefs, insisting on them, can etch out a black and white world, where we hold our opinions as facts and others in judgment. This stark view ultimately robs us of our deeper sense of compassion and acceptance.
On my social media feed I am often disheartened by the extremeness that I witness. Recently, I observed peoples’ insistence that “Merry Christmas” is somehow more valuable, appropriate, or right, than “Happy Holidays.” Holding their personal belief so strongly that, instead of embracing the warm well-wishes of another, they actually minimized and judged them. But, let’s be honest here; what those people were actually saying is that they do not welcome religious differences within our shared country, and they feel that those who do not celebrate Christmas are somehow impeding on their beliefs, and thus their celebration of those beliefs. That when the word, “Christmas” isn’t used, it’s a personal denial of Christ, and thus somehow un-American. It’s absurd really. Doubtfully, this offended person was conscious enough to boast “Happy Hanukkah” during the appropriate time frame, but rather fell to “Happy Holidays” to infer their reverence, respect, and warmth. This type of black and white view not only robs from the magic of the holiday season, but encourages a denial, lack of acceptance, and ultimately an intolerance of others. When we don’t hold that America is a melting pot of cultures and religions, the beauty of gray is lost.
So, how do you know if you are seeing the gray of a situation? First, I’d suggest that if you have a strong emotional response to something; that is likely because a belief is being triggered, or tapped into. If you immediately feel anger, frustration, accusatory, belittled, or offended—also likely that you are experiencing the black and white stance of said belief. We are in the return line of a major department store, we see a mother ahead of us, her children running about, she’s hollering at them to come stand quiet… you’ve already labeled her. That label is a reflection of your black and white belief. The way things “should” be. All of my coaching clients know that I am going to hit the pause button in our conversation when they use the word, “should.” There is simply no such thing as should. Should is a belief, and it varies in each person, in every situation. Whenever you hear yourself saying how things “should” be, I want you to ask yourself: According to whom? What I love about the Live lyrics are the three words, “to be alive,” because how much are we really living when we are locked in the box of our beliefs, seeing the world only from our limited perspective, unwilling to grow. If a plant only allowed a certain type of rain droplet or sunshine in, it would surely die. We need the downpour and the abundant rays to feel the full effect of the world around us.
So, as we have just crossed the horizon of 2017, I encourage you to investigate your “shoulds,” to see if they are keeping you from experiencing the full beauty of gray.