Scientists, pollsters, many religions, politicians, television pundits, and lots of other groups seem to have no gray in their color palette. Everything is either black or white, true of false, right or wrong. We don’t want nuanced answers to questions of abortion, gun control, or even “would you like to go to a movie?” (It depends. What’s playing and where and at what time? Are we going to go to dinner first? Who’s paying?)
The standards of “proof” in statistical research, known as confidence intervals, set a very high standard for considering a hypothesis to be true. When that standard is applied, it increases the likelihood that the researcher will reject as false something that is actually true. The problem is that there are gradations of truth, and researchers struggle with how to control for circumstances that might give false positives or negatives.
When we move from the laboratory to daily life, we sometimes find that an attitude of perceived certainty has spread to other parts of our human experience where nuance is more appropriate yes or no, right or wrong, approve or disapprove. Abortion on demand versus abortion never ever ever misses all the complexities of the specific situation. Gun control is not either-or—background checks and an assault rifle ban does not mean “the government is coming for your guns.”
Sometimes the answer should not bet either-or, but both-and. When the right demands that we end the Affordable Care Act ( Obamacare) while the left advocates Medicare for all, those of us who spend our lives swimming in the muddled middle are looking for a compromise, a good enough solution, which is what Obamacare was and still is. We can affirm the nuanced decision in Roe v. Wade that sets duration of pregnancy as a determining factor in considering abortion. We can put reasonable constraints on access to guns without trashing the second amendment. We can respect people’s religious beliefs as long as they do not trample on the rights and beliefs of others. That’s what democracy is all about.
If we can reframe the public conversation away from sound bites and taking firm and unyielding positions toward a search for common ground, compromise (not a four letter word) and a due respect for the thoughts and opinions of others who see things differently, perhaps we can learn to dwell together in peace.
So for starters, take out your mental set of paints paints and mix up some gray. As we know from some very fine fiction, you can create at least fifty shades. Just ask Sherwin-Williams.