When a baby is born, he or she can only see the colors of black and white. My son stared at his black and white mobile for hours as an infant. For my new grandson, I ensured I bought books with black and white starkly-contrasted drawings to stimulate his brain.
A baby’s ability to see shades of color develops by five months old. However, I think that black and white tunnel vision merely changes to a moral world view of black and white.
Is there any person in the world as self-righteous and sanctimonious as a teenager? I say that not about my own children, but because I recently found some of my own essays from high school. I wrote a diatribe against divorce, how morally unfair it was once a couple had children. I have now been divorced twice. At the age of 15, I wrote a seething condemnation of abortion, equating it to murder and a lack of self-responsibility. Guess who needed an abortion three years later? The writer of that morally hypocritical piece.
The black and white tunnel vision of babyhood turned into a sense of black and white regarding right and wrong. One of my favorite lines from the Wicked musical:
“There are precious few at ease With moral ambiguities So we act as if they don’t exist.”
As we age, we experience the hardships and uncertainties of life. Slowly, I began to realize very few issues exist in a vacuum with a clear right and wrong side. Certainly, some issues like that still do exist, such as racism and sexual assault or harassment. No room for moral ambiguity exists in areas like white supremacy or misogyny.
But as I aged and experienced life, I realized that each event or encounter widened my horizons, enabled me to see those shades of gray. As I listened to the stories of others, those shades of gray emerged. I realized I did not have all the answers. People had life experiences and had to make decisions that I had never faced.
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I had an interesting conversation with one of my wise former students. I have long insisted that the difference between a liberal and a conservative is that liberals care about issues that will never affect them. Conservatives only care about issues that directly affect them. I pointed out via an Internet meme the number of Republicans who were anti-LGBTQ until they had a child who came out as gay. I was angry about the hypocrisy. I will never need another abortion and do not need birth control, but feel the need to fight for women who do need them.
My wise student pointed out that while his parents were anti-LGBTQ until he came out as gay, now they are active in their support for the LGBTQ community. He reached their heart. Maybe that’s one of those shades of gray. Instead of focusing on the hypocrisy of the right when they switch sides when an issue affects them, maybe I should embrace and accept the fact that they ran head long into one of those shades of gray and let it touch their hearts.
Even grandmothers sometimes need reminders that we no longer view the world in the black and white of newborns.