Living Well in the Gray

Wisdom vs Fundamentalism

Life is complex and overwhelms us. Answers for living are rarely simple. Black, white, good, bad, right or wrong, seldom describe solutions for living well.

Gray is normal in the complexity of living with seven billion people on this planet we all call home.

Wisdom, it seems to me, would best be described as living well in the gray.

Oh how we need it!

What do we want?

To live well.

But the answers given us by the institutions around us seem nothing more than an attempt to make the entire gray around us either black or white. Each one attempts to indoctrinate us to respond to people and situations with completely for or against responses. The indoctrination purports itself as truth and does its best to convince us that anybody should easily see it as such. 

This leads to an “all or nothing”, “slippery slope” approach to every important topic that needs thoughtful discussion. It is painted in black and white terms from both sides and each side demonizes the other. We are divided and conquered. We hate each other without reason because we are labeled as right or wrong, bad or good instead of reasonable or wise or human. We have become a culture of strident voices. We fight for power so we can enforce that which we claim to be right.

We judge, but we don’t use good judgment. We are guilty of pat answers that we have received from the sources we have chosen to listen to.

A very incomplete list of topics we hate each other with could include:

  • Abortion
  • LGTB
  • Police Brutality
  • Political Party
  • Economic System
  • Constitution
  • Patriotism
  • Religion
  • Race

The constant need for right or wrong, black or white, good or bad, has made us slaves of the very things we judge others of. Fundamentalism has become the pejorative that rightly describes our approaches to each other. We refuse to listen to each other’s hearts and reasoning. This modus operandi makes us intolerant of any opinion outside our groupthink. Its result is the demeaning of any human being who thinks thoughts other than those inside our walls.

I don’t care if you call yourself progressive or liberal or conservative or evangelical, or Muslim or Christian or Jew or Hindu. If we judge others from our own black or white, right or wrong, good or bad point of view, we will continue to devolve into isolated walled cities yelling epithets at each other.

Life’s answers are not the ones our current institutions keep screaming at us. Their right or wrong epithets are nothing but the strings of control that those in power move their puppets with.

Gray is where we live and always has been. We don’t know the perfect answer to everything.

Living well in the gray of life is called wisdom. It is more important than anything else in making decisions.

As one ancient wise man has expressed it, may we once again become “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.

I have come to believe that control of thought (fundamentalism) is Wisdom’s opposite.

Will we leave behind the age of fundamentalism and open the door to the age of Wisdom?

Will we replace our judging of each other with good judgment on ways to make this world a wonderful and sustainable place for all of us to live?

Oh God, I hope so.


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  1. A Word of Explanation: This was written before reading this post; the purpose of this little story was to make a philosophical point and so I left out anything not pertinent to that point. After a finial polish, sent it off by E-mail prefaced by this note of Explanation: “This is my attempt, in a light-handed way, of talking about one of our biggest triumphs and also one of our greatest faults. By creating Differences, we also create Identities. This is problematic when the Differences we create, also create things like Tribes, Nations, Political Parties, etc. … which we then mistake for ‘Real.’” I moved onto the next item on my list, reading your latest Blog post. It was then that I was struck by how closely my concerns were matched by the concerns of you post. It is unclear to me whether anyone else will understand what I’ve written or if it has a proper place here, but I offer it anyway …

    A Philosophical Just So Story

    “In the beginning there was only Undifferentiated Wholeness, no Sameness or Difference. But when Undifferentiated Wholeness became infected with a thought, the thought of difference, the thought of Sameness also appeared. This is how Undifferentiated Wholeness, differentiated into sameness and difference, became the World we know, the World of Sameness and Difference. The End.”

    Commentary: Of Sameness and Difference, they are the same, but differently so. “Same” is definable in terms of “Different,” as “Different from Different” … but not the other away around. So, it would seem that we must have knowledge of Difference before we can have knowledge of Sameness.

    • Thanks Bill! I love this piece.
      For all that read this, Bill and I are friends and have conversed for several+ years and I’ve loved every minute of it!
      If you’re of a philosophic bent, I recommend you find Bill on google+ and enter the conversations of some great minds.:)
      (disclaimer-I rarely comment on google+ myself, because of that great mind thing I mentioned:))

      • This is actually Bill’s comment that I moved so it would be in the right position.
        Bill Reed
        May 1, 2015 at 2:40 pm
        Bear with me; I promise that this comment will be on-topic. 🙂

        You flatter me, Ben. My philosophical interactions, on-line, consists of me making a statement, which is followed by one of two responses. Either the response is an echoing silence, in which case the regularly scheduled discussion continues as if I had said nothing, or the response is a fierce argument aimed at convincing me of my philosophical sins, based upon the uncritical acceptance of some philosophical stance. In the second case, if the argument continues long enough, the chance is near certainty that I will find myself on the end of any of the normal personal attacks. (I left out one possibility, that we have our discussion, agree or disagree, and part smiling after an honest exchange of ideas; I leave this out that is so rare as to be freakish … as in “whoa; what just happened.” It seems that the virtual on-line world, once heralded as a panacea for our social and political divisions by removing barriers to communication, was constructed on a foundation of those very divisions. There is no technological solution to our divisions; we must find that within ourselves.

  2. I’ve just finished Parker Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, and it reminded me that the walled cities you describe can be a feature of our digital media and suburban culture. Palmer talks about the need to mix with others who don’t see issues the same way. It’s harder to do now that most of us don’t shop, mix and mingle on Main Street, but we have to make the effort and encourage others to do the same.

    I was reading the mission statement for Habitat for Humanity yesterday and it confirms that Habitat is a Christian group, but it also welcomes everyone of every faith to participate. It also forbids proselytizing. An example for all of us.

    • Thought-provoking. Sometimes I think I just want to walk out between the walled cities and talk with those who have left them because they long for the quiet of good conversation. I think people are leaving the walled cities in droves because of the longing for reasoned, wise and thoughtful conversation without malice.
      I love Habitat. They truly are an example.

      • Ben, in Untracked Part 5 you talk about “Project and goal-inspired alliances will join with people and need-inspired alliances to actually carry out “God’s will on earth as it is in Heaven”.

        Baughman, Ben (2015-02-06). Untracked: When Religion Doesn’t Let Us Follow Jesus (Kindle Locations 7303-7317). . Kindle Edition.

        The reason I was checking the Habitat mission statement is that I’m thinking about ways to develop a “Service for Jesus” website that would match volunteers with needs in our rural Texas town. Have you given any more thought to this topic?

        • That’s more gratifying than you could know, Paul. Here’s a paragraph directly from my resignation letter to our church of 23 years in January 2011.
          “I want to write, blog, and be part of building an internet site that would empower and enable people to become part of a community that is joining Jesus in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. This site would link people, ideas, and resources for the purpose of bettering the world in some way that appeals to each individual.”
          Yes, I’ve thought about it and would love to talk further. I will email you.

  3. That “we will continue to devolve into isolated walled cities yelling epithets at each other,” I think understates the problem. I foresee a maximally fragmented future where we hold ourselves prisoners, holing up in our fortified egos. Our problem is an exclusive focus on differences; By creating Differences – and let us forget most differences are created by us – we also create Identities. This is problematic when the Differences we create, also create things like Tribes, Nations, Political Parties, etc. … which we then mistake for “Real.” This is why I have a reluctance to label myself by any label; I believe what I believe, I will argue for my beliefs, but after the is is done, hopefully, we can part still friends. I have, and always will, live on the boundaries, where the gray is.

    • What encourages me the most, I mention above in response to Paul’s great comment. There are more and more people who are simply walking away from the fundamentalism around them. I believe that number will only increase and soon hit the “majority” level. I hope I am right in what I am seeing.
      Oh, by the way, those buttons; Carma designed those for me. Maybe we can make them into something wearable:)

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