Jon Ronson, an author and investigative journalist, gave a brilliant TED talk in 2012 on over diagnosing of mental illness in USA and psychopathy. Although not related to said subject, he made a statement, describing a misdiagnosed patient:
“He’s a grey area, in a world that doesn’t like grey areas. But the grey areas are where you find the complexity, it’s where you find the humanity and it’s where you find the truth.”
What is a grey area? The most common perception of the phrase is that of a state that harbors and justifies ill-definition and indecisiveness. A state that goes against the venerated sciences that seek to define all elements of the world as yin and yang. A universe of equals and opposites.
The metaphor in the phrase, ‘grey area’, is telling of the facts it seems to convey, even when taken literally. Black, a real go-getter color, symbolizing boldness at its epitome. White, it’s definer, the ultimate color for neutrality and peace.
And then there’s grey. The poor adopted cousin. You think grey and it’s just… meh.
Needless to say, never going with the flow, I (respectfully) disagree with the perception. Our society, one that dismisses a middle ground, encourages taking extremist stands and looks down its partisan nose on those who stand on neither end of the polarization, then has the gall to be at a loss on why we live in an increasingly unsafe and intolerant world.
One of my most frustrating experiences in high school has been trying (and failing) to explain my ‘mood swings’ to my peers, my tendency to be expressive and interactive and then the next minute want to be left alone with my book. A lot of people would come up to me and flatly, without a flinch, declare, that there was no way I could be an introvert, since I was perfectly able to hold a conversation and maintain eye contact with strangers. Apparently, someone who doesn’t run, hide, faint or vomit in the face of a social interaction is not an introvert, implying by extension that all extroverts party away their days and never like a quiet moment to themselves.
It was then that I realized what the discomfort with ambiguity really implied. Our aversion to fluid, overlapping definitions is really our love for the comfort of labels. We are, I think, genetically programmed to want to label. It is evident in the way we defined our gender roles, prehistorically (men, the protectors and providers; women- caretakers of everything else). Even today, despite all our grandiose claims to modernity, we are in denial about bisexuality, we view hermaphrodites as unnatural, and we expect the entire world to be divided into cold-hearted agnostics and those forsaking themselves to symbols of their version of god.
But here’s the catch. Nature, contrary to our preference, does not function in straight lines. It allows for deviance and nurtures its grey areas. And this incompatibility is at the root of human ignorance and intolerance.
We need to recognize that there are unknowns in this world; some that science can eventually explain and some that are meant to stay incomplete, imperfect and unexplained. There exist among us ideas, emotions and people who cannot be shoved into color coded organizers; who don’t fit into a niche.