One of my favorite songs as a teenager was “Only Shades of Gray.” It was more than the harmony; the lyrics of the song drove a deeper message into my youthful psyche. I remember it challenged my preconceived notion to neatly characterize things into the simplest of terms. Could it be that a more realistic and holistic truth was not black and white but more akin to shades of gray?
Decades have passed since I first listened to this Monkees song. It is often said that wisdom is acquired with time. Unfortunately, with recent events, I have found the opposite to be true. Today boundaries are no longer blurred. Lines have been viciously drawn in the sand. Not only are many of us refusing to think outside a predetermined, boxed, mindset, there are those who believe that those who don’t stand squarely in the box with us are now considered “evil”.
With all the world’s advances in technology, education and communication, why is it there is seemingly more divisiveness with our fellow humans than ever before? While one might point to one leader or another on the global stage, these schisms would not exist if it had not already found a comfortable place to live in our minds and hearts. And that means ALL of our hearts.
In my opinion, and based on more than 30 years of practice as an SGI-USA Buddhist, it boils down to a comfortable, but disruptive, tendency to harshly judge one another based on whether they share our opinions, religion, skin color, age, party affiliation or nationality. Unfortunately, reducing others and their views into this simplistic branding is dehumanizing. The result is we begin to see only the label and not the person.
There is a very dangerous byproduct that emanates from this type of thinking – hatred. It is easier to judge, and even despise others, when they are reduced to a moniker. This topic is discussed in more depth at DePaul University, a highly respected Catholic University based in Chicago by Jason Goulah, a Professor and Director of DePaul’s Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education. An interview with Mr. Goulah was recently featured in the November 2020 issue of “Living Buddhism.”
The late British historian and philosopher, Arnold Toynbee, and deceased American civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, embraced the philosophy advocated by Daisaku Ikeda and Soka Education. Conversely, examples of dehumanizing labels and propaganda were effectively used by Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Benito Mussolini and countless others. Being manipulated in this way by the latter does not serve our humanity and our collective global society, and it never will.
What is the alternative?
Rather than pigeon-hole those who do not share our language, gender, borders, political/religious view, education, income level or mindset, we can take a different approach. We can challenge ourselves to adopt a broader view to see the person rather than the label. However, Mr. Ikeda outlines one crucial caveat; there can be no common ground if one’s core beliefs and actions violate another person’s dignity or humanity.
So what can we do?
Although what is most important in one’s life may differ, the one thing we all can do to create a more peaceful and harmonious planet is to rid ourselves of unnecessary labels when referring to one another. This is especially necessary when these labels are used as pejoratives to foster hatred.
Simply put, if we can put aside our assumptions of people as “us” or “them” or “good” versus “evil” mindset and learn to embrace, rather than fear our differences, the possibilities are endless. The advantage to our hearts, souls and humanity is that once we learn to listen and learn from one another, we pave the way to being kinder and happier human beings who can create a more vibrant, loving and colorful world.
It may be only one thing, but it’s a start.
Editor’s note: Sally Marks is a resident of east Mesa. She retired in June as public information officer for the Apache Junction Unified School District. She is a motivational speaker, public relations professional and the co-author of the self-help book, “Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.” Go to markspublicrelations.wixsite.com/sallymarks.