If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Friday, August 7, 2009

Living In A Black And White World

Angel came home for a night. He leaves today to visit his dad before starting back at school. He's been with his friends for the past two weeks and is rejuvenated by the experience. He told me that he and his friends watched Fistful of Quarters. They really enjoyed it. He then proceeded to tell me the entire plot. If you haven't seen the film, it is about two grown men who are battling over bragging rights for highest score on Donkey Kong. It seems there are official rules and policies and committees that sanction the highest score. This documentary paints one of the men as good and the other as evil as well as highlights corruption in the gaming world. Angel and his friends ended up hating the evil man and fantasizing about visiting the restaurant he owns in Florida just to heckle and annoy him. Angel was aware that editing of a film can skew the story but had several reasons why he was sure this was not the case with this film.

I also heard the story of an RA who was unfairly monitoring one of his friends and accusing him of dorm violations that were innocuous (having candles burning in the room) and ratting on him to the powers-that-be without first approaching his friend to discuss said violations. Angel knew this RA in other circumstances and thought him a stand-up guy but now has lost complete respect for him. Of course the violations are all true and shortly after he told me this story he proceeded to describe how he and his new roommate have designed their room for optimal beer hiding.

I believe it is a developmental phenomenon that during your late teens-early twenties it is almost impossible to see shades of gray. Perhaps it is a sort of temporary color blindness. I'm not sure why it is necessary but it certainly makes sense that this is the age we send people to fight in wars. I find the same tendencies in Pumpkin and I remember being that way myself, so it is not gender-specific. This is not to say that they are incapable of seeing shades and texture, but rather that they are initially drawn to the black and white view. And while some people never outgrow the stage, I believe for most it ends by 25.

As a teacher I've seen it in both undergraduate and masters' level classes. It creates a challenge for introducing subjects such as gender, race, and class and how they intersect with my field. Most students want the easy answer. Most want to believe that it is all a matter of individual choice. Challenging them and pushing them to see situations from other perspectives is challenging for me. Using a socratic approach can help but you have to be really skilled not to let the argument boil down into dichotomies. However there are usually older students in both my graduate and undergraduate classes and this can help pull a more balanced discussion. But am I reaching the others? I don't really know.

As a parent it is even more challenging especially in the case of Angel, where I feel the relationship is already a little fragile. I've taken to injecting a possible alternative scenario once or at the most twice in a conversation and then letting it go. I feel its my duty as his mother to point out the shades of gray but I can't make him see them. If I try I believe I'll force him deeper into his black or white stance. And I remember all to well the anger I felt when told I was "going through a phase," so that approach is definitely out. Maybe one day he will recognize it and laugh about it with me as I have recently done with my mother.


Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

I'm now inspired to call my own mother and apologize to her for going through this phase. For me, at least, I think that I went through this phase because it was the first time I was making decisions for myself. So, it was easier to see things as black and white (i.e. this thing/action/person is good or this thing/action/person is bad). At least that's my hypothesis this morning.... it may change. :-)

life_of_a_fool said...

I have this problem in classes as well. Students sometimes get really frustrated that the "right" answer isn't clear. I actually love that they aren't sure, and love wallowing in shades of gray and complexity. But, I have the same concern of actually reaching them.

But, you're more generous than I am in thinking that most people grow out of it by 25. It often feels like many people don't grow out of it. Or, they're capable of it, if they're willing to think things through or gather more information, but that doesn't happen as often as it should.

It's a really painful observation/connection that this is the age at which we send people to war.

Julie said...

Great topic!! I think I came to the realization much earlier than my peers did due to my life circumstances. I was out in "the cruel world" at a younger age. I had no financial safety net to fall back on, other than my own.

I realized at an early age how unsure life is. I realized how small I am. The more I learn, the more I realize how very little I know.

I don't mean I'm smarter than my peers. I just think the realization came for me due to life circumstances. So when I went to class, I demanded much from my teachers. I was thrilled to be learning and wanted the teachers to challenge me.

I'm not complaining, though. It has been very good for me. I'm willing to view all angles and constantly question. I think that's the only way to truly learn. Thanks, Brigindo! I love topics like this.