Navigating the In-between of Our Connections
There is light and darkness. There’s love and hate, up and down. There is the extraordinary and the insignificant. And then there’s the real world, which falls somewhere in between these extremes.
Our world isn’t polarized; and the people and things that fill it aren’t split perfectly down the middle. The real world is made up of complex individuals whose beliefs, attitudes, and creations are all varied but still subtly intertwined.
You wouldn’t know this by watching the news or logging on to social media. It isn’t apparent in the billboards that line city streets, and it certainly isn’t the story that’s told in political ads. Across our screens, vibrating through our speakers, and painting our subways are messages intended to separate rather than unite us, to create extremes where none truly exist.
Big industries, institutions, politicians, and marketers benefit from making us think and feel that our differences – in opinion, taste, philosophy, and behavior – are like a vast chasm that can’t easily be bridged. This makes it easier to create categories for targeting, assessing, and ultimately influencing us. The grander the category, the easier it is to sway popular opinion – think nationalism. The more specific the category, the easier it is to make a sale – think razors for him and her.
We unwittingly make these categorizations even easier by allowing ourselves to be branded, by adopting labels and buying merchandise that identifies us by our hobbies, interests, or beliefs. It seems as if nothing is sacred enough, or even unique enough, to escape labeling and branding. This is because classifications are like a sugar rush for our egos – though they’re unhealthy, we crave and can even become addicted to them because they give us a sense of identity and make us feel like we’re a part of something.
Although they can taste good on the outside, labels wreak havoc on our insides. Labels make us think in extremes, even if unconsciously, because by their very nature they divide people as being in or out. This kind of thinking can easily become a self-preserving wall that stands between us and those we deem different from us.
Thinking in extremes places people who think, practice, believe, or live in a different way from us on the other side of a wide abyss. We begin to think of them as being so vastly different from us that we needn’t bother trying to bridge the gap. This allows us to rationalize dismissing, ignoring, fighting, or otherwise discrediting them – which protects us from the possibility of needing to challenge or defend our own thoughts, practices, beliefs, and lifestyles. This is why it feels so good to represent something. When we represent something, we wear it like a tattoo – because it’s permanently affixed to us, it can’t truly be challenged.
Extremes – left and right, light and dark, good and evil, alike and unalike – don’t exist in the real world; they are just mental tools that are meant to help us simplify complex thought processes. When we use this tool incorrectly, it can easily become a weapon that harms the one who wields it as much as the one on whom it’s used – a weapon like judgment, envy, greed, fear, or violence. For this reason, we have to remember that the world isn’t cast in black and white or even in shades of grey; the world is a kaleidoscope of color. We are all just mixtures of various different hues that make us who we are.
The first step towards remembering this and accepting people as the complex creatures they are without labels and judgments is by allowing that for ourselves. The less that we cling to our own ideas, beliefs, and practices, the less we need to defend them against the possible threats of opposing ideas. When we stop accepting labels for ourselves we move beyond extremes, because if there is no clearly defined us there can be no them.
Our differences are one of our greatest strengths, not the weakness that so much of our media implies. When we dare to dance together across that empty space between us, rather than fighting or ignoring it, creative potential awakens like static electricity beneath our flirting feet. It’s there, in that place where two opposites meet, that truth lives and thus, when we venture into that place together, we become true ourselves.
In our everyday lives, as we see and interact with those whose ideas differ from our own, we must remember that an idea can be completely changed in the blink of an eye by the slightest change in the wind. When we hear references to politics, religion, race, class, or any other label, let’s move through, around, over, and between those walls of perception like water through a net until eventually no one bothers to cast them because, like the ocean, our similarities are too great for any distance to ever truly separate us.