Grayscale - The Spectrum of Life

There are two ways to view the world depending on what it is that we are looking. There is binary (is or is not) and spectral (an intensity, on a given spectrum). Today more than ever we are trying to assign binary attributes, to spectral phenomena.

Let us look at what a spectrum is. A clear example is the color spectrum. There are many colors within this range. As we move from one to another, say red to blue, it is not all red and then after a certain point all blue. There is never only red, or blue but instead some combination of the two. There are the primary colors which can become constituent parts of all other colors, but they do not exist in isolation. We need the relative shade of other things to let our eyes know the hue and intensity of the color of interest.

This long-winded statement suggests that we as humans try to create binary attributes for things and people who are not inherently binary. This notion can be seen when we label things. For example, some characteristic that is binary, like being tall or short can be marked and well defined. The issue is in the definition of the label. What is tall or short?

The converse is also true. We tend toward trying to create spectral phenomena out of things that are binary. Morality for example. Is something moral, or not? Can something be more moral than something else? At some fundamental level, we as humans judge things as being moral or not. This choice is a binary decision. We must take care here not to slip into relativism. Something cannot be somewhat moral. There is, however, no denying the extreme complexity of such a binary attribute.

The last part of this conundrum is the application of labels that might be true on an individual level, to a group. By applying labels and creating an in-group, first, we are automatically implying there is an outgroup. Secondly, a label that could hold for one person at one point in time is likely to become irrelevant at some later time and indeed does not hold across the group at large. This assertion is to say, a label might be accurate for some small aspect of one person, but it never holds across the spatiotemporal horizon for the group at large.

Additionally, binding the group aggregate with a common thread such as hate gets no one anywhere good. By creating an in-group, again, we create an outgroup. Now that there is a group formed, there has to be an offense and defense automatically to keep the group identity. This idea is much like the case when people of opposing political parties come together and cannot come to a consensus. It is not because they disagree on a fundamental basis. It becomes a disagreement based on group principles, or ideals.

The ironic part about this offense and defense is that when the labels are not disclosed, people from the extreme opposite fronts can come together and work toward solving a common problem. There are examples of folks from two different ends of the political spectrum coming together and working in tandem. They were able to cooperate, talk and work things out. It was only once their respective group identities were exposed and found to be opposed, that things went downhill. It is once labels start getting placed that there becomes an enemy. This notion is the case and point of this article. As soon as we begin to label, and often incorrectly so, we create a battleground where there are two diametrically opposing sides.

These diametrically opposing sides are usually the extreme edges of the ideology. In this case, it does not matter which side you are on; extremism is dangerous for everyone. However, due to their extreme ways, they are the ones that scream the loudest and get the most attention. If we can take a step back for a second and examine our positions, we will often find that we are probably much more moderate in our view. If we can become as objective as possible, we will see that our viewpoints, event to the complete opposite stance are often far more similar than they are different at a fundamental level.

There was an example in a podcast that explored extremism of any viewpoint. There is something called a flywheel. If we apply some force to it, it will spin freely and continue to rotate until all of the energy has been dissipated due to friction. The viewpoints discussed herein are similar to a flywheel. There are people all along the radius. The extreme views are at the edges of the wheel. The thing is, the outer edge of the circle experiences the most significant amount of force. As more people slowly start to migrate toward these extreme viewpoints, more mass is added to the edge. The flywheel is also gaining momentum (or speed). With these two key aspects, at some point, the wheel will not hold together. It will self-destruct. The only real way to start bringing people back from the edges is to realize that we are all perfectly human and that we are all perfectly flawed.

It is easy to slip into several patterns here. The first being that we are at the center of our universe. There is not a single experience that we have had, where we are not the absolute center. Secondly, we are quick to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. So, instead of taking a step back and trying to interpret the world from the perspective of the other person, we immediately judge their actions within our paradigm. It is tough to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes because we have not had the same experiences that they have. If we keep that in mind, we can become a bit more compassionate and understanding.

We are so quick to forget that we are all humans on this wild ride that we call life. We all have the same common goals of being happy and fulfilled. We all have insecurities. We all experience pain and suffering in the same way. We all experience some form of pain at least at some point in our lives. We all have been created genetically to reproduce so that the populous can survive. We all have much more in common, including DNA, biology, psychology and spiritual needs than we are often willing to admit. We are all equally weak and vulnerable beings that must learn as much as we can about the unknown world of chaos that surrounds us.

Until we set aside our tendency to label things as binary that should be placed in a spectrum, we will continue to face similar issues. We can think of any hot button topic and people’s stance on such a problem. If instead of trying to be right, or wrong, we take on the mindset of the learner, we will be much further ahead. If we learn that things like group identity are often grayscale and not black and white, we can potentially keep the human element alive.