Gray Areas in the Gray Matter

Click on picture to link to Arthur Brooks TED talk

Click on picture to link to Arthur Brooks TED talk

Click on picture to link to Arthur Brooks TED talk

I listened to The Ted Radio Hour on NPR recently. The show I caught was titled, “Beyond Tolerance.” The hour was head-lined by Arthur Brooks and his talk was about the fact that we shouldn’t just tolerate those who are different from us but we have to get to the place where we realize we need them That’s right: We need people who think, believe, look, and act differently from us.

Right after Trump was elected president I was also listening to a show on NPR—can’t remember which one—but the speaker was talking about his view of Trump supporters. He said something like this, “If I find out one of may Facebook friends is a Trump supporter I can’t take it. I have to unfriend them. I just think, ‘I don’t need you in my life.’”


Arthur Brooks said in his Ted Talk that we have to make it personal to understand why we need those people in our lives who disagree with us. Think of some relative (sister-in-law, brother, cousin, spouse, parent) who doesn’t vote/believe/act like you do. Would you be willing to banish them to another continent to get them out of your life? No! You need these people. We are connected to them in a more primal way than the ways in which we differ. They’re our blood or they’re loved deeply by someone we love or they’ve given life to us.

If you were marooned on a deserted island with one other person—think of your complete opposite—would you be willing to live utterly alone rather than spend the life you have left with that one? I believe we would all work to find what unifies us, what we can appreciate and love about the other in such a case rather than be alone and lonely.


Well, we are all on this huge floating planet together. And all we have is each other. Tolerance isn’t going to do it. Coexistence isn’t going to do it. The dictionary definition of to tolerate is “to accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.” Wow, that’s like swallowing a bitter pill or under-going mild torture. That can’t possibly define living in relationship with another. And the definition of to coexistis “to exist in mutual tolerance despite different ideologies or interests.” Let me get this right, that’s existence with enduring forbearance. “I HATE you but I’ll grit my teeth and bare it.” At least that’s better than the guy with the unfriended Facebook “friends!” But barely. We’re finding out in this charged political climate that we can’t go on like this for long. Violence has and will be the outcome and, for some, the final outcome. So, what to do? What to do? Do you have any ideas?

SPY vs SPY.jpg

I have one. We have to find the gray areas in our gray matter. We have to back away from the ideological precipices we’ve brought ourselves to before we all fall into the Valley of Mutual Destruction. This has been brought on by political motive asymmetry. Now I didn’t know it had a name when I wrote(insert name & link to prior post) but learned it from Arthur Brooks: “A majority of people in our country today who are politically active believe that they are motivated by love but the other side is motivated by hate. Think about it. Think about it. Most people are walking around saying, ‘You know, my ideology is based on basic benevolence, I want to help people, but the other guys, they're evil and out to get me.’ You can't progress as a society when you have this kind of asymmetry. It's impossible.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Boston College, Liane Young says, “There’s so much research in social psychology suggesting we first think about who we are and what motivates us, and then we tend to apply that to other people. What we’re seeing here is just the opposite, where I say one thing for me and instead of extrapolating that it would be the same for you, I say it’s just the opposite for you – that you’re motivated by your hatred of my group. That’s pretty striking to me. These attributions tend to also track with other sorts of consequences: If you think that the people on the other side are motivated by their hatred of your group, you also are unwilling to negotiate with that group. You tend to think they’re more unreasonable, suggesting that people’s misattributions of other groups may be the cause of intractable conflict.”

OK, got that??? We’re at the precipice because we’re just so sure that the other guys are hateful bigots or murderous anarchists (depending which side of this canyon you’re on). So I propose that we dilute our certitude with a little uncertainty, that we temper our righteous anger with a little tenderness, our supreme judgment with a little mercy. That we color our black and white separations with a big swath of gray.

Click on picute to go to Lisa Labon's website

Click on picute to go to Lisa Labon's website

As we have seen in recent events, there are hate-filled people out there. Im just asking that we not paint everyone with the same broad brush. There are gray areas in most people. Try to find the gray areas in yourself. Begin to revel in uncertainty. Question your quick judgements, your knee-jerk reactions to people and events. Ask yourself it there could be another explanation for someone’s actions? Assume the best motive of the other person—the kind that motivates you. And just float around in the fog for a while.


by Brian Zahn

I was once so sure
So sure of myself
So sure that what I wanted
Was one in the same with what God wanted
How could it be otherwise? 
Child of God that I am

I was once so sure
I was taught to assert my will
In the name of the Lord, to be sure
For the name of the Lord is a talisman
To endorse and empower my will to be done
For what else could my god have to do
But to make all my wishes and dreams come true?

I was once so sure
That I knew what was good for me
And what was good for me
Was good things for me Me. 
Me. … Me. …Me. …Me. …Me. …Me. 

Oh, I knew better than to say it just so
I knew how to dress it up in altruistic robes
And how to crown it with chapter and verse
Nothing like a plucked verse to make you so sure
(Yet it and I weren’t all bad, oh no, far from it) 

But the point of this confession is
I was once so sure
That I knew good and evil, right and wrong
In me, in thee, in theology, in policy
But there’s a snake that lives in that tree
Is original sin a sin of epistemology? 

To be so sure
Certitude in doctrine and politics
And just where the dividing line runs
Safe in the certain knowledge
That I’m on the right side
Of the right-and-wrong line

I was once so sure
And it’s fun being so sure
People like it when you’re so sure
(If they share your certainty) 
And isn’t that what faith is? 
Being so sure? 

Well... I’m not so sure
Cock-sure, can’t-miss certainty
Is not the faith that I see
When I look at the patriarchs, prophets, and poets
And Jesus
(“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”) 
At the cross faith and hope find their finest hour
But arrogant certitude is proved to be an impostor
(Did I hear the cock crow?) 

Instead of brashness and bravado
The poet of hope said “In quietness and trust” 
So now when I’m not so sure
I try to be quiet and trust
Not myself, my mind, my kind
But in the mercy of God
In his severe salvation
A salvation that is sweet as honey
And severe as the cross
Though he slay me
Yet will I trust him
Surely Goodness and Mercy

Brian Zahnd -