Shades of

Sitting in a room with people who often do not share the same opinions as I do on the world, politics, religion, the conversation turned to ideas of right and wrong. One person, with a very serious look on his face said, “The world wants us to believe there is not only right and wrong, but gray areas, but gray is not a shade of white, gray is a shade of black.” Many others nodded their heads, the implications turning in their minds.

Rather than allow for one moment, that the universe was not broken down into clean dichotomies, that sometimes, what is right and wrong are not even the core issue, one sentence allowed everything to be placed back into tight little bubbles, an impermeable line cutting the two hemispheres.

Forgetting for a moment that the entire premise of that sentence is wrong (gray is an intermediate color, between white and black on the spectrum, a neutral color), the implications are frightening enough. If certain things are always right, always wrong, then most of our belief systems crumble.

Stealing is always wrong. Any killing is murder. Any deception is a wrong.

But none of us live that way, and few of us (certainly, there are some), believe that way. It doesn’t take more than a second to imagine exceptions to those statements, as over the top and outrageous as they are.

I’m not implying that human beings do not rationalize poor behavior or justify actions based on a fabricated sense of neutrality. I am saying that there are few things, if any in our world that are clear cut.  When the topic is one we agree with, when the person talking is preaching to the faithful, it is easy to ignore things we know, through our own experiences, to be accurate. What one group of us finds offensive and immoral, another of equally good and honest people does not.

The worst part of the conversation, for me at least, was this feeling of justification in the room. We all could agree with what this person was saying, that the straw man they had created, this world view that there is nothing right or wrong, an ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ philosophy, was full of so much fallacy, and only a fools would attach themselves to it.

Or maybe, the worst part is that I remained silent, sitting there, stewing in my thoughts.

One sentence kept running through my head-

You always win, when you argue with the straw man in front of the faithful. 

I like to think I made the better decision, keeping my mouth closed, avoiding an argument that I could not win, that would be nothing but a pointless disruption. Anger and frustration would not have been the best tools in this situation. I would not have changed minds, only made people angry. I’ve done that enough in my life.


About fenster

There are some who call me, Tim?

4 responses to “Shades of”

  1. Jens says :

    One of my favorite posts of yours, Ryan. Nice work. Also, kudos for keeping quiet; a personal victory I wish I had as often as you do.

    • fenster020 says :

      A personal victory that I decided to not just keep to myself. Oh well, I guess I can pretend I shared this as a learning experience, not to pat myself on the back, right?

  2. Aaron Kammerman says :

    Funny, I could have made that comment at one point. I have said in the past something similar (though different): “Gray is simply a bunch of black and white pixels–so it is all black and white!”

    I don’t think that way exactly; what I mean to say is that it is impossible to write a code of laws that are absolutely and always right and wrong. Having a belief in God, I see it this way: I choose to follow God, and what is right for me is what I believe He is telling me through His Holy Spirit. Some things will stay pretty static (thou shall not kill, etc.) but some principles may prove to be more dynamic in their nature. Nephi was commanded to kill.

    I don’t think this belief is dangerous: what is dangerous is the tag-along (erroneous) principle that I can tell you what is right and wrong for you. This is not accurate. Joseph Smith was very clear in the Article of Faith: “. . .let them worship how, where, and what they may.” I can share, and I can use persuasion; but I am out of line when I believe that, or act as though I can, dictate your right and wrong. Man, this is difficult as a parent. But again, the Doctrine and Covenants make is very clear that I can only act within God’s will when I am using persuasion, love, and kindness as I try to influence others.

    It is difficult living in a culture where from childhood you hear “the only true church” multiple times each week. Even though I believe it to be true–that belief cannot and should not translate into a “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude or stance toward others, whether they profess the same faith or something entirely different. I think a non-judgmental stance is a hard attribute to master (and even harder for Mormons). I greatly admire those for whom it comes so naturally–our Mother-in-law, for example. My little brother is another person who has this trait. Isn’t this the most endearing trait of Jesus? So simple in principle, yet so difficult to practice, at times. (Heaven help the missionary who comes home early, or the young man who decides not to go!) As Mormons, we are fixated on ‘doing’ and not ‘being’ or ‘becoming’.

    This is a great weakness of mine, and I like to think that I am improving in this area. I still need ample self-coaching and I engage in a lot of inner wrestling matches–but not as frequently as in the past.

    Thanks for your writing. It’s been thought-provoking and very helpful to me.

    • fenster020 says :

      Aaron, I think few people distinguish between a belief in a concrete/absolute right and wrong and judging others or applying their individual standards to the actions or beliefs of other groups. It is very hard to hold a belief that something is morally wrong and allow that immorality to go unchallenged in others. I guess that is what I find dangerous. My experiences have taught me to be wary of most absolutes, as few things if any, in our world ever are absolute and while I can understand and even appreciate faith in divine absolutes, my mortal, human brain can’t make sense of that sort of thinking very often. Which, of course, doesn’t make what I think correct or even remotely true.

      And you’re right! Parenting…wow! I would love to continue this sort of conversation in person one day, if you would like. I have other ideas that you might find interesting.

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