Sometimes I wonder if a symptom of our modern age is an inability to see shades of grey. Social media, technology and the age of information has ushered in a new world. A world where we can substantiate almost any belief we want. If we see something we don’t like, we can grunt. We can stick our bottom lip out and say disdainfully, ‘fake news!” That sort of dismissal of anything you don’t like made one man a President.
Someone once tagged me in a social media post that was comparing Nigella Lawson to Gillian McKeith. Gillian McKeith is a health guru who advocates many things, among them a plant-based diet. Nigella Lawson is a celebrity chef who eats lashings of everything including lots of milk, chocolate, meat and cream. In the picture, Nigella looks radiant and Gillian looks like she is one step away from the grave. The whole point of the post was that eat whatever you want and have a fabulous life. Alternatively, you can watch your health and be a gnarled and wrinkled crone. The comments underneath this post were astonishing in their vitriol.
It amazed me because all you needed to do was google Nigella Lawson and Gillian McKeith. Then you could easily find photos that reversed the argument. I know because I did it and found photos within seconds. The post is quite different with Gillian McKeith looking like a radiant sunflower. With Nigella looking dishevelled and like she was suffering from a chronic illness. The shade of grey is that different lifestyles suit different folk. I am a firm believer in doing what is best for you. Instead, people just saw black and white. They revelled in the fact that they had ‘proof’ that a health guru could be ugly and unhealthy.
I recently saw a photo of teenage students all staring at their phones while sitting in front of a masterpiece in a famous museum. The article that went with the photo intrigued me. The crux of the article was that we judge unnecessarily. The person who took the photo shared it online, without comment, basically to see the judgements that people would make. Obviously, they all slammed the iPhone addicted millennials, moaned about the decline of civilisation etc. In the article, the author stated that the children were researching the artist as part of their museum experience.
The article itself was quite smug. The author focused on how many older people judged these inspirational teens. Teenagers who were just a part of a different educational learning experience. What the writer did not acknowledge though is that if you go into any room in a museum now, you will find bored teens (and adults) scrolling through their Facebook feeds or twitter feeds while ignoring the world around them. Or worse still, standing with their backs to whatever it is they are meant to be looking at, while they get the perfect selfie. I don’t think the writer was any better than the people who were slamming the teenagers. Neither the author nor the people commenting could see the shades of grey.
I watched a video this morning on the challenges of employing Millennials. These folks are a device addicted, social media addicted, narcissistic, egotistic generation with an appalling sense of entitlement and the desire to make a difference without the desire to work their way up or earn their stripes. But this video made no mention of the students worldwide, who went on strike for climate change or the students who quite literally brought Washington D.C. to a standstill and who may well be the generation who will finally change gun laws in America.
I also remember seeing some images on social media of burly young men coming down a gangplank with the implied caption being that they were supposed refugees. Once again, the comments were vitriolic and if I am honest, frightening. The next day I saw an article from a journalist who was investigating viral anti-refugee posts and, in his article, he revealed that the photo I had seen was taken from a film set and had nothing to do with refugees. People seem to want to substantiate their beliefs so badly that they have stopped questioning.
I am increasingly of the opinion that if we believe something, we should spend a great deal of time attempting to refute it. Experimenting with all the different shades of grey and exploring every angle. If a belief is that important to us, surely we need to challenge it.
Sometimes it feels like we live in a world of hate, where talk is cheap and social media posts are even cheaper. We live in a world where a right-wing nut job can walk into a place of worship and gun people down. Not only does he gun people down, but he films it, streams it and many, including notable media outlets share the feed. Then somewhere else in our crazy world, over 200 people can be killed in different places of worship on a day that to many is sacred.
Surely, we need to stop the hate, stop the black and white, and find the shades of grey. Also, we need to think before we speak. Think before we post. Perhaps remind ourselves of the words, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
When we walk in the morning, different dogs occasionally join us. One particular dog loves Rosie and all he wants to do is play. But she just cringes whenever she sees him. Any other dogs make her leap in horror through the bush in her attempt to flee from social contact. Kevin on the other hands wants to play but the other dogs aren’t remotely interested in him. He still chases after them like it is a glorious play date.
The conclusion that I have come to is that in the dog world, some dogs just aren’t your cup of tea. They don’t go posting on their doggy social media feeds. They don’t stop playing or make a federal case out of it. They just keep on sniffing each other’s bums and running around the park like it is the first day of the rest of their lives.
Shades of grey hold so much beauty. So lovely is the silence of things that don’t need to be said. Perhaps now we should remind ourselves, that if you have nothing nice to share, then perhaps don’t share anything at all. Instead, look for the shades of grey and the forgotten art of silence.