Salted caramel. Dry ice. Heavy metal orchestra. Complementary contrast is a normal part of life, marrying the best of two concepts into an experience better than each on its own.
In life, we find ourselves in contrast often: the times when one foot stands solidly in one space, and the other roots solidly in another. Moments that embody the feeling of ‘and’. Whether these moments become crossroads we take or amalgams we accept, the experience of living in two worlds simultaneously is universally human. As John Steinbeck once said, “There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.”
So why does it feel like there’s pressure to claim a single side and hold on tight?
Right now, the world is mired in divisiveness. Lines drawn cross politics, religion, geography, science, health, and education. In the public sphere, social media has become a proving ground for idea campaigns and reputation shredding. It’s a tough place to live in the gray. And so I’d like to pose an alternative, to suggest we don’t have to choose as many sides as the mediasphere would have us think. There is a space for both individual freedom and collective progress: that space is “the culture of and”.
Embrace the Culture of ‘And’
I’m not a fan of clearly defined parameters. I enjoy trekking my own way because in that journey, I find the strategies that fit my values. It’s also why I’m a terrible cook—recipes are full of specific steps that must be followed in precision for the dish to succeed. Ask my husband about the time I made asparagus hollandaise and he’ll turn the same shade of green. But that penchant for unfettered navigation is what keeps me coming back to this idea of “and”. Human beings are sophisticated animals. We juggle family, friend, and career roles. We schedule our lives around a series of goals that span personal, relational, and professional. We vary the food we eat, the media we consume, and the clothes we wear. We trek out into the wilderness for Nature’s beauty and track our steps, path, and heart rate with the latest technology. We already know how to live with the best of two worlds. What we need to feel peace in the social world is to embrace the idea that our beliefs can be slices of many pies.
To live outside the talking points of one side or the other, we can be clear about what it is we think and feel. We can examine each decision that affects our family, friends, colleagues, and communities with an understanding of what we want and what is possible. In most situations, there’s a way to get part of what we desire, and most of what we need, even if it means redefining our expectations. But compromise only works if we understand the goals and needs of everyone involved, so we have to stop making others guess. It’s human nature to make assumptions about others based on past behaviors, which is why the people in our lives will make assumptions until we tell them. Clarity is kindness.
The Power of Change
Ironically, the more progressive our world becomes, the more we latch onto the words, actions, and mindsets of the past. As a woman in my 40’s, I’m grateful for the experiences that have changed me the last few decades. I don’t see the world the way I did when I was 18, or 28, or 38. Those shifts I’ve made in how I see myself and the world indicate progress, not hypocrisy. It’s natural to change our minds. We experience transformative moments, and the way we live needs to move with us. Changing our views doesn’t equal changing our identities. And believing in shades of an idea that encompass more than one ‘side’ is okay. We can accept new realities without having to lose the core of who we are. The world has never been black and white: it has always been a myriad of gray.
Embracing ‘and’ doesn’t mean we give up choosing a path to follow. It means that we define our lives into values and decisions that reflect the complicated human beings we are. We can love those who believe differently than we do, and we can change our viewpoint without losing our center. Next time we find ourselves in the center of two spaces, let’s look for the ‘and’. With ‘and’ we can open more doors than we close.