Ever Complex

By Glenda | September 10, 2014

I have been thinking about nuance.  Webster:  “Nuance:  a slight or delicate variation in tone, color, or meaning;  shade of difference.”  Hmm.  Shade of difference. So a nuanced statement would acknowledge and incorporate shades of differences.

And then there’s complexity.  Webster: “Complex: consisting of two or more related parts;  involved, complicated, intricate, not simple.”  (I note that the Latin roots of the word complex involve “weaving “or “twining together; braiding.”)

How do those differ from contradictory?  Webster:  “Contradict:  to assert the opposite (of what someone else has said); to deny the statement of a person; to declare a statement to be false or incorrect, to deny; to be contrary, to go against, to oppose verbally.”

Living as I do in the “information age,” when news media, social media, and various other media provide us with instant opinion and analysis with mandatory contradictions, when economists refer most frequently to the “bottom line,” when politics is often ruled by a poll taken on any given day, it seems to me that nuance and complexity are sorely disregarded.

Not new, of course.  Any religionist can tell you that Jesus was crucified by those in contradiction to his views, those with no appreciation for circumstantial nuance.  What do I mean?  Well, let’s review the complexity (or, if you are in for instant analysis, the contradictions) of some of the statements attributed to Jesus in the Bible.  He is quoted as having said:

On the one hand:  “Honor thy father and thy mother…”    Matthew 19:19

On the other hand:  “Whosoever shall not forsake his father and his mother and his brothers and sisters does not follow me… Matthew 12:48

On the one hand:  “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other cheek; …Blessed are the meek…”  Matthew 5:39; 5:5

On the other hand:  “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”  Matthew 10:34

On the one hand:  To one who was healed:  “Go and tell no one…”  Luke 5:14

On the other hand:  To another who was healed:  “Go home to thy friends and tell them what great things the Lord hath done for thee.”  Mark 5:19

On the one hand:  “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  Matthew 7:1

On the other hand:  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites….ye serpents, ye generation of vipers…”  Matthew 23:23

On the one hand:  “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you…Forgive and you shall be forgiven.”  Luke 6:27; 6:37

On the other hand:  “And whosoever shall not receive you nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them.  Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for that city.”  Mark 6:11

And again, on the one hand:  “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret…”  Matthew 6:3

On the other hand:  “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

Now.  Why do I bring up these statements that are apparently contradictions in what Jesus said?  Do I mean to imply that he was hypocritical, ambivalent, etc.?  That might be what the current run of pundits might do, those who love to play “Got You!” But my intention is the opposite.

My intention is to show that, as poet Richard O. Moore said, “Simplicities are enormously complex.”

Jesus was attuned to nuance, responding to specific details of any given situation and placing those details in a larger context. For example, take the first quotation above, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” which he said to a young man who asked him how to be good, how to achieve eternal life, and Jesus responded with the ancient Hebraic ten commandments, including this one.  But in another situation, where Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees about why the disciples of Jesus ate forbidden food at certain times, Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees by pointing out to them how the Pharisees themselves dodged the commandment of honoring their parents by saying that in certain circumstances this was allowed, yet they did not have the same flexible attitude in assessing the disciples’ behavior about eating.

Some might call this “situational ethics.”  And that too may be an over-simplification.

Labeling something, (such as calling this “situational ethics”), can be useful and it can be dangerous.  As writer Arthur Miller once said of psychology, “You think that by naming something you have done something about it.”

Labeling, or “tagging,” (an activity so popular and even valuable on the internet) is an aide, to be sure, but ultimately its usefulness must depend on how much or little reflection we bring to the broader context of what has been so succinctly labeled.  Certainly we all know that if we Google any word so ever, we will likely find definitions and statements on all sides of the meaning of that word, and we will find it “tagged” in all sorts of often contradictory directions.  We do well not to stick with the first tag we encounter.

Where am I going with this?  Am I implying there are no facts?  Should we throw up our hands and give up on “truth,” if it is actually many sided?  Or do we take the time to find a legitimate nuanced understanding, to “braid” together everything we can to get a broader and clearer tapestry of nuanced meaning?

Why do I bother to write about this?  Especially when the grammarians, the politicians on either side of the polarized world, the religious extremists—all these could easily rise up to fuss with me and disturb my peaceful meditations?  Because it matters!  It matters big time!

We are at risk of losing something in our culture so valuable I cannot begin to imagine what the future may hold without it.  Already we seem to have put aside Aristotle’s notion that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Perhaps we still pay lip service to Socrates’ refrigerator-magnet quote: “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

But do we actually slow down long enough to entertain the nuances and complexity of any situation, any statement no matter who makes it?  Or do we rush to judgment, jump on the bandwagon, jump to conclusions, accept as truth whatever we hear from those on “our side” of things?

Or (please let it be so), do we seek to discover and learn more, so that we may “weave together” the various and seemingly opposite elements of any situation to come up with a more perfect clarity?

And, most important, to me, do we leave our minds open at the end of our analysis to continue to receive new information, new ways of seeing things, instead of making an absolute out of our current findings or opinions?

David Bohm, the quantum physicist who made significant contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy, and neuropsychology, has said, cited in Wikiquotes:

“We often find that we cannot easily give up the tendency to hold rigidly to patterns of thought built up over a long time. We are then caught up in what may be called absolute necessity. This kind of thought leaves no room at all intellectually for any other possibility, while emotionally and physically, it means we take a stance in our feelings, in our bodies, and indeed, in our whole culture, of holding back or resisting. This stance implies that under no circumstances whatsoever can we allow ourselves to give up certain things or change them….”

Congress and gridlock.  Yes, that problem.  Nations at war.  Always that.  Religious ambiguities.  Oh, yes!  Does all this matter?  You bet!

For some reason, lately, books and documentaries about Nazi Germany have been coming into my view, raising yet again the old question, “How could so many good people in Germany allow the Nazi regime to take hold and do what it did?”  Why does propaganda work?

Well, people I have known who lived in Germany both before and during the war told me that “in the beginning Hitler did good things for Germany.  We were in desperate straits after the First World War; we were in economic ruin, we were in grief and shame.  We needed to feel better about things, and Hitler provided that for awhile.  We did not know where it would all go…”

In other words, Hitler built up the trust of the people by first giving them what they thought they needed, played upon their emotional distress.  And then, as time went by and he had acquired sufficient power, he brought in the element of fear, always a prime mover.  People in Germany, even many who understand the developments, were then afraid to oppose the Nazis; it was too dangerous.  So, all too many succumbed to the propaganda, the constant control of the media, the repetitive rendition that the Jews were somehow at fault, dangerous, to be put away from decent people.  To be killed.  To be exterminated.

Are we safe here, as we may assume, from propaganda? I wonder.

Here is warning from George Saunders, writer and social commentator, from The Braindead Megaphone:

“…if we define Megaphone as the composite of hundreds of voices we hear each day that come to us from people we don’t know, via high-tech sources, it’s clear that a significant and ascendant component of that voice has become bottom-dwelling, shrill, incurious, ranting, and agenda-driven. It strives to antagonize us, make us feel anxious, ineffective, and alone; convince us that the world is full of enemies and of people stupider and less agreeable than ourselves; is dedicated to the idea that, outside the sphere of our immediate experience, the world works in a different, more hostile, less knowable manner. This braindead tendency is viral and manifests intermittently; while it is the blood in the veins of some of your media figures, it flickers on and off in others…”

There is little of nuance, little room to acknowledge complexity, in most of the dialogue on radio talk shows or television punditry.  Saunders goes on:

“A culture capable of imagining complexly is a humble culture. It acts, when it has to act, as late in the game as possible, and as cautiously, because it knows its girth and the tight confines of the china shop it’s blundering into. And it knows that no matter how well prepared it is — no matter how ruthlessly it has held its projections up to intelligent scrutiny — the place it is headed for is going to very different from the place it imagined. The shortfall between the imagined and the real, multiplied by the violence of one’s intent, equals the evil one will do.”

Let us not add to evil.  Let us imagine, at least, that truth is complex, that justice is nuanced, that villains are humans, that heroes are imperfect, that logic must make room for the mystical, that mystics may be on to something that science is replicating, that, in short, all contradictions are only the various sides of a sacred prism that is called Life.  Let us cherish the opportunity to see it clearly, from all sides, while we still have time, while we can still undress anarchy and tyranny and dictatorship and polarization and militarization and all the other seeming demons to see what they really are, underneath.

I wish to stand with Toni Morrison, American novelist and educator, when she said:

“…It doesn’t matter to me what your position is. You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain. This is no time for anything else than the best that you’ve got.”

Living with nuance, with complexity, then, what would that be like?  Would it mean that because there are various “shades of differences” in every situation, that we cannot take a stand, cannot act?  Indeed not.

Rather it would give us the flexibility to move in any direction.  It gives us the open-mindedness to receive new information.  It allows us to compromise and then build upon that to develop new possibilities.  It allows us to be free of hero worship and demagoguery alike.

It also allows us to continue to appreciate wonder and to honor mystery.  It allows us to have hope, even trust, in unforeseen positive eventualities.  It allows us to believe in creativity.  It encourages us to respect those who attempt to live by these principles of open-mindedness and nuanced intellect.

It doesn’t mean sticking one’s head in the sand.  Again, quite the contrary.  It means keeping one’s head up there where all the winds blow, where one can get as much of a panoramic view as possible.

It can also afford us a welcome breath of comic relief.   Seeing the world from many perspectives can allow us to see the irony and ridiculousness of absolutism.

James Cabell, American author, said, “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.”

And as marketing and communications consultant Steve Rivkin said:  “The more unpredictable the world becomes, the more we rely on predictions.”

George Saunders, quoted above, has also said about those with views other than his: “At times, they’re so Right and I’m so Left, we agree.”

And poet Kathleen Norris reminds us:  “In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.”

I wonder, though, sometimes, whether some of us have used much needed comic relief, irony, parody, as a place to stop.  Watching comedians do social commentary is helpful in many ways, but is it enough?

Again, scientist David Bohn:

“Dialogue is really aimed at going into the whole thought process and changing the way the thought process occurs collectively. We haven’t really paid much attention to thought as a process.   We have engaged in thoughts, but we have only paid attention to the content, not to the process. Why does thought require attention? Every thinking requires attention, really. If we ran machines without paying attention to them, they would break down. Our thought, too, is a process, and it requires attention, otherwise it’s going to go wrong…I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment…”

May I and you be safely open to and participate wisely in this sacred unending process of movement and unfoldment.

I hope that this rambling posting will simply be food for thought, encouraging an appreciation for complexity and nuance, and discouraging mindless demagoguery.

Sorry this posting was so long;  the subject was complex.  A sound bite just wouldn’t do.

Blessings to all.

Glenda Taylor

2 comments | Add One

  1. Heidi Lemberger - 09/11/2014 at 4:42 am

    I am in awe of not only your perspective on such important matters, but your ability to put it into words so well and bring it into examples in reality. As I go through my days seeing and hearing the strong and polarized stances taken by so many on every topic imaginable, I am often silent, evaluating and trying on each viewpoint, sometimes finding merit and sometimes moving on, yet often left somewhere in the middle and still seeing both sides. Even when I feel strongly in one direction, I often withhold my comment, not wanting to state my position for all eternity, nor add to the polarity of a situation. While I recognize that are not advocating silence, for me this is the practice of discernment that has been my life long lesson. And beautiful minds like yours have influenced me along the way to get to this place – this place I’m proud to be. Yet I would like nothing more than to share these words of yours with everyone, as they resonate so strongly with me and are so very important. Blessings Grandma Glenda and thank you for sharing this.

  2. Tom Schenck - 09/15/2014 at 3:53 am

    My body reflex the nuances you discribe so carefully:
    At 14 months a kidney disease that was supposed to kill me.
    At 15 months a nuerovirus that was supposed to prevent me from ever walking or talking again.
    At age 7 a surgery that put my heals to the ground and made walking more stable.
    At age 12 another surgery to turn my feet out 45 degrees which provided more balance.
    At ages 1 year to 14 years all the professionals who believed in the nuances of physical therapy and speech therapy.
    At ages 15 to 25 believing my body would fit in regardless of gait and the nuances of so many others to make it so.
    At age 42 know drugs were preventing the nuance of my remarkable body and it’s ability to survive and the remarkable choice of a sobriety lifestyle.
    At age 66 at diagnosis of Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis and an absolute limit to treatment options.
    At age 67 the nuance of quality of life over the anemia and complete fatigue of ineffective chemo therapy and stopping the treatment.
    At age 69 discovering an effective chemo therapy with no side effects for a 12 week treatment course.
    At age 70 a fracture femur and hip replacement surgery and managing the nuance of hip rehab and Cerebral Palsy spacisity.
    At age 70 a doctor joyously telling me my body is cured of Hepititis C! And my cirrhosis is much more manageable.
    All the absolute diagnoses and prognoses about my body framed a dance of healing which taught me the limits of medicine and the wonderful nuance of healing.
    So it goes my friend!

Leave a Comment


E-Mail :

Website :

Comments :

Subscribe for email updates

Enter your email address:

Blog Posts