On Nuance

“When one is young, one venerates and despises without that art of nuances which constitutes the best gain of life, and it is only fair that one has to pay dearly for having assaulted men and things in this manner with Yes and No. Everything is arranged so that the worst of tastes, the taste for the unconditional, should be cruelly fooled and abused until a man learns to put a little art into his feelings and rather to risk trying even what is artificial — as the real artists of life do.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

When I was young(er), the most frustrating concept was constantly on my mind: nuance. I despised the intricacies that seemed to envelope every issue. To me, the world should be black and white. If there is a concept of right and wrong, the world should mirror the simplicity of that statement. Something is either right, or it is wrong. Something is either good, or it is not. To simplify things to this level seemed the most important undertaking I could imagine. How much more enjoyable things would be if we could distill the essence of everything to such simple terms. If you bullied someone, you were wrong- no exceptions. If you care about someone, you act in a certain manner. There is no room for grey.

I’ve since changed my position on nuance, as I think most tend to do as the years get on. I tend to embrace simplicity now more than ever, but I also recognize the importance, the necessity even, of the details that tend to construct the intricate quilt of our world. For the longest time, though, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that brought about this shift in thinking. Of course, diversity in all things- in people, in stories- is a critical feature of a fulfilled and wise world- but why?

The answer, insofar as it lies within me, has to do with a pursuit of knowledge, whether it is factual, emotional, spiritual or otherwise in nature. A detestation of nuance is a fear of pursuing knowledge, while to embrace nuance is to embrace a journey that is at the core of the human experience. Curiosity is perhaps the greatest asset of the human mind. One would shudder to think of the world in which curiosity, and therefore nuance, doesn’t exist.

Consider gay rights- a defining issue of our time.

In my teens, I would have asserted the opinion that all men are created equal, and it’s as simple as that. To do so, however, is to negate the intricacies so necessary to the conversation. Those fighting against gay rights do so from the teachings of their basic moral foundation. The fastest way to entrench someone more deeply in their beliefs is to ignore those beliefs altogether. Instead, a conversation needs to take place on the very basis of those moral foundations, which can ultimately lead to the discussion of gay rights.

The position of those opposed to gay rights is similarly black and white. Homosexuality is wrong, and that’s that. In this context, the crucial detail being missed is what constitutes an action (or a lifestyle, as they like to put it) being wrong. The question being begged of this position, then, is not being asked.

As a result of this, we have two sides of an argument standing opposite each other, one shouting “Black!” and the other shouting “White!”. If you care passionately enough about a subject, you must pay it the proper respect in looking closely at the details which form its foundation.

I believe there are more constructive ways to deal with this, and it begins with curiosity. Each side must be curious enough to delve deeper into the symptoms of the counterpoint’s argument.

The defining characteristic of an evolving mind is the acknowledgement that there are questions to which we have no answer. After this confession, there is only one logical step to take. A pool of curiosity lies before us, shimmering with the hope of new mysteries to solve, if we but offer it our naked feet, and take a step into the Unknown.  

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