I have a confession. I obviously used that title to draw you in because even though I have not read the book, I know enough from the reviews to say that there is no one in the world who thinks the book 50 Shades of Grey is for kids. Sadly though, that book has tainted one of my favorite go to phrases: “shades of grey”.
We all like to think that we can break things down into black and white, when in essence, life is many shades of grey constantly swirling and combining in different intensities. Coming to grips with shades of grey is something that only really ripens in adulthood, and even then, the acceptance and understanding that the world and life are not black and white is a slow process .
I don’t think I truly understood that until the other day when I had a heated discussion with my 21-year-old son about a topic on which we have major differences of opinions.
Yes, he is an adult. Yes, he is a soldier. Yet he still sees things as black and white, kind of like I did at his age. I was frustrated by his not being able to see that there are many shades of grey in every disagreement between people and nations.
When I thought about it more, I realized that I miss the naiveté of my youth when things were black and white for me. I miss knowing what is 100% right and what is 100% wrong. I miss being sure of what is good and bad. I miss the conviction of “knowing” the truth and being sure that I will never waver on my principles.
Today, I know that there really is no black and white. Our values generally stay strong, and they guide us in how we live our lives. On the other hand, our principles can change depending on the circumstances. In other words, we use our values to decide what and when we take a stand on something. Adults (for the most part) can better see different sides of the story and realize that compromise isn’t always the end of the world. We are generally less vested in being right, and we try, not always successfully, to see the bigger picture.
Kids on the other hand need the black and the white. They need to be able to fit good and bad into neat boxes. Strong or weak? Ugly or pretty? Smart or stupid? They need to be confident in what is right and what is wrong. Good or bad? Safe or dangerous? Maybe that’s why fairy tales have very clear-cut good and bad characters. Children need the peace of mind that comes with unshakeable beliefs.
Shades of grey make a shaky foundation for confidence and assurance. Black and white are unbreakable cement pillars, which can explain why grey takes so long to learn.
Black and white may be advantageous to kids for both safety and social purposes by helping them sort people and the world, understand what is safe for them and how to belong to a group. However, black and white is also extremism. It’s an either or mentality. It reduces a whole spectrum of possibilities to only two options without entertaining or acknowledging the whole gamut of possibilities in between. It’s the land of never and always. It’s the primitive childlike thinking adults slip back into when we’re going through hard times, when we are looking for certainty.
In life there isn’t one answer. There isn’t one truth. The world changes and evolves while black and white is stuck and interferes with creativity. When our world is black and white we end up spending a lot of energy on being right and trying to prove our point.
As parents we are charged with the great responsibility of instilling our kids with a moral compass. As part of that process, we consistently and sometimes unwittingly hoist our opinions and solutions on our kids. We do our best yet sometimes we forget that while children need their black and whites we have to stop and think how to begin to introduce them to shades and hues of grey.
We need to live our lives as a model for our children. We need to show them by our actions that there is more than our right answer. That being right doesn’t mean someone else is wrong, being wrong also doesn’t mean that someone else is right. We don’t have to agree with everyone but we should stop to listen and then think about what it is we really believe.
We all have our black and whites (which may or may not change over the years) but most adults have a many hued resplendent grey life. It takes courage to embrace grey. It means we’re willing to learn, change and entertain other points of view.
Do you think kids should learn about life’s shades of grey? If you do, how do you help teach them that life is not black and white?
This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Susie Newday of Israel. You can find her positive thoughts on her blog, New Day New Lesson.
Photo credit to the author.