The Death of Nuance


It is a rare ability.  In fact, it is becoming so rare that one might consider it almost a superpower.  It is the ability to see several sides to an issue, or see an issue from several different people’s points of view.  It is the ability to see black, white and also various shades of gray.  We will call this superpower…nuance.  And boy could we use some.

More and more it seems that the preferred way to make an argument is to bombastically declare your position, and then belittle anyone who would think differently.  Republicans and Democrats are the place where perhaps it is most obvious to us.  But it is everywhere.  The problem is 100% the Israelis, no it is 100% the Palestinians.  Gun control is THE answer.  Gun control is NO answer.  How dare Hobby Lobby, they give Christians an evil name.  How dare you bash other Christians trying to stand up for what they believe.

Why would this be?  Are all issues simply matters of black and white, good or bad?  Is it that you are 100% wrong or 100% right?  Is there not a place for a little more nuance in our disagreements?

Perhaps the modern age in which we live is a contributing factor to the disappearance of nuance.  140 characters on Twitter doesn’t leave much space for looking at various sides of an issue.  But it is perfect for throwing a bomb.  Blog posts with titles like “The Various Levels of the Hobby Lobby Case and Why There Is No Absolute Here” would probably not be clicked on very often.   Looking at too many possibilities makes for a long patch of writing that many people won’t work their way through.  Making a one-sided argument is much quicker.

Plus, it is much more comforting to believe that my way of seeing things in any particular arena is so obviously the best way to see things.  Since I am right, I don’t mind painting you into a corner.  Let me give an example.

Just recently I have read more than one blog post entitled something like “The Ten Things You Cannot Do About ________ and Follow Jesus.” (Apparently people like to steal title ideas)  While posts such as these are provocative and get our attention, think about what they are declaring.  If I disagree with anything in the post, then I am not following Jesus.  And if I am not following Jesus, then obviously anything I have to say on the topic should be dismissed.

And there is the rub.  By avoiding nuance it allows us to completely dismiss any opinion that doesn’t match with our own.  So we say that people are racist, or homophobic, or ignorant if they don’t agree.  And then we don’t have to listen to their argument because they are racist, homophobic or ignorant.  Very convenient.

Now please hear me.  I am not saying don’t stand up for what you believe.  There are no absolutes.  There is never a time or place to have a forceful opinion.  What I am saying is that far too often we dismiss ideas and people because we are unwilling to see any possibility outside of the one in our own head.

So, here are a few ideas for getting a little nuance back in our lives.

1.  Recognize that someone can disagree with me without being _____________ . (You fill in the word)  Someone can believe that gay sex is a sin without being homophobic.  Someone can believe that gay people should have the right to marry and still think gay sex is a sin.  Just because you don’t have the same view of welfare as I do doesn’t mean you are an uncompassionate, selfish jerk.

2.  Stop using pejoratives.  As soon as we call someone a name, we are saying that the argument is over.  Why should I listen to someone who is ignorant or racist?  So drop that kind of language.  Homophobe, racist, ignorant, even words like conservative or liberal (when used as pejoratives) should be out-of-bounds if our goal is to have a learning and growing experience.

3.  Get out of your comfort zone.  The beauty of the modern age is that we have access to so much information, and so many possibilities for contact with people who view the world differently.  However, the truth is that many of us run to the same exact sources, people, blogs, etc… again and again.  We are much more comfortable hearing what we already think.  Only by looking at a broad range of thoughts and ideas can we both find some nuance and see past ideas to people.

Now, some might wonder why this matters to a preacher.  I live in the world of right and wrong, of good and evil.  And that is true.  But far too often I have witnessed people, good people, church people, unwilling to even listen to another person.  This isn’t just about (or even primarily about) politics or church matters.  I am talking about husbands unwilling to even consider a little bit of nuance with their wives.  Or a parent refusing to listen to their children because the parent already knows they are right.

But just the idea that their might be the possibility of an ounce of nuance forces us to listen.  And listening is the starting point for understanding.  I don’t mind so much that you disagree with me if you take the time to first understand me.  I am not liberal or conservative or well-informed or ignorant.  I am all those things and so much more.  I am nuanced. Shouldn’t our conversations match who we are?



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