The Black And White World

Most of us, we see the world we live in as black and white. I’m not talking about color blindness. We see events and situations and we assume that they are one of any two states. You’re either succeeding in life or you’re stagnating and failing. You’re either happy or you are not. We believe that there is no middle ground.

This line of thinking extends into other areas of our lives as well. The best examples can be found in typical Indian movies. The protagonist is purely good, made of all the right macho elements and typical traditional values that make him (it’s always a him) a prize catch as a son-in-law for all mothers everywhere. Ignore the constant stalking of the female lead and the cat-calls, the hero always has good intentions. But our would isn’t binary.

A world where reality is black and white would be easier to live in, but our Universe isn’t like that. There are many, many situations in life that are morally and ethically gray. And the thing about gray areas is that there isn’t a right way to it. It all depends on perception and perspectives.

I’ve been listening to Season 2 of Serial, almost religiously. Yes, I know it isn’t as good as Season 1, but I still like it. The whole story being presented in Season 2, the disappearance of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and his rescue, all rests on one topic: was what he did right?

There are many who would love to point out that Bowe was a traitor, a deserter and what he did was not just wrong, but unforgivable. I can understand their perspectives and sure, I respect it. Keeping aside concerns over whether Bowe’s reasoning was in fact, true, it becomes clear that there is no right answer to the question. His reason for walking away from base, is commendable and honorable, yes, but it also did land him and other members of his platoon in trouble. Though the season and probably the court-martial of Bowe might be over soon, there will still be a debate going on over the morality of Bowe’s actions.

Tim Lott points out that in Zen Buddhism, there is no inherent “good” and “bad”. Both of them are desirable and much-needed, since together they make our world dynamic. Here is what he says about “good” and “bad”, the polar opposites of the same thing.

Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, there is no idea of ‘good’ out to destroy ‘evil’, or vice versa. Evil cannot be destroyed, any more than good can, because they are polar opposites of the same thing, like poles of a magnet. Destruction is as necessary as creation. Chaos must exist if we are to know what order is. Both aspects of reality, in tension with one another, are necessary to keep the whole game going: the unity of opposites.

So what is the point of all this? What am I trying to convey here? Just the simple fact that life is not binary, it’s not black and white. Good and bad, moral and immoral, noble and ignoble, these are all subjective. They are relative. They vary from person to person, from situation to situation. It all depends on your point of view, your experiences and your perceptions.

Once we can fully acknowledge our bias to view the world through a black and white lens, we can fully understand that there is a vibrant spectrum behind every little action, controlling every cause and effect. When we fully understand our vulnerability to be narrow-sighted in this sense, we can overcome it, and see the world more clearly, with all the added complexity in people and their decisions. That’s all there is to it.


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