How black and white conceptions disempower us (Beyond black and white conceptions series 1)
When a small child learns to recognize black and white colors, that’s a step forward in their color literacy. But suppose that child, even after becoming an adult, doesn’t learn to recognize any more colors. That would be limiting, even dangerous — what if they can’t understand which traffic light indicates stop and which go?
Similarly, we grow morally when we learn the basic categories of good and bad by understanding the virtues that represent good and the vices that represent bad. But to have real relationships with real people in the real world, we need to grow beyond such black and white conceptions. Why? Because most people are a complex blend of virtues and vices.
Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita explains that we all are shaped by the modes of material nature. The three modes impel the entire spectrum of behavior from virtuous to vicious. And the modes are constantly competing with each other in every human psyche (14.10). Because this inner competition plays out differently in each human heart, people within the same moral category may have radically differing behaviors.
Suppose we have a black and white vision of humanity wherein we deem meat-eaters bad and vegetarians good. With that conception, we will be stumped when a meat-eater turns out to be gentle, genial, even generous in their human dealings. Or we may be shaken when a vegetarian turns out to be cold, caustic, even cruel in their human dealings.
Gita wisdom can help us transform such disorienting experiences into impetuses for our moral growth. Thereby, we can connect with people as individual conscious beings, not as mere embodiments of black and white categories.
To reduce humanity to black and white is to reduce our capacity to have real relationships with real people.
Think it over:
- What’s wrong with reducing humanity to black and white?
- Note one experience when you encountered moral complexity.
- How can Gita wisdom help you make sense of such moral complexity?
14.10: Sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, O son of Bharata. Sometimes the mode of passion defeats goodness and ignorance, and at other times ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.
To know more about this verse, please click on the image