Shades of grey

I've met a number of people who see the world as being black and white. I love you—I hate you. I adore cabbage—I hate cabbage. She is wonderful—she is evil. You are so perfect for me—how could you be so wrong?!

These are the people who one minute can't do enough for you, and the next, are lashing out at you. These are the people who pedestalise a person, then knock the person from that pedestal because the person did something inconsistent with the unrealistic picture of pedestalised perfection they had in their mind.

Such individuals can be extremely charming and giving—until you show yourself to be human and fallible. Then they start seeing you as the devil. They act as though you should be a godlike figure of perfection, and are angry when you can't live up to that ideal. Even if you've done nothing wrong, you can still find yourself on the end of their anger, when they have misunderstood you or misinterpreted something you have said or done. These individuals tend not to recognise their own fallibility, and this means that they are completely blind to the fact that they can be mistaken in their damning judgements.

Instead of taking it for granted that everybody makes mistakes in their thinking sometimes, and that life is often shades of grey, they take a black-and-white approach and put themselves in the position of an angry god harshly judging others. There is no middle ground, no tolerance, no leniency, no magnanimity.

I have found that people who live their lives by absolutes can be extremely judgemental, no matter how charming they might seem when you're on the pedestal.

In a relationship, I think that signs of such absolutist, black-and-white thinking should be regarded as a warning flag of potential problems ahead. This is particularly important for a woman to be aware of if she wants or is in a Taken In Hand relationship, because there is a real risk of abuse.

I would advise any woman looking for a Taken In Hand relationship or in a Taken In Hand relationship to check that the man she is with can admit mistakes, deals kindly with dissent, does not get too angry if she disagrees with him about something, and neither pedestalises nor damns people. Look for a man who has a realistic view that human beings make mistakes.

In my relationships, I have found that while there are occasions where black is black or white is white, most of life is in shades of grey and should be viewed as such.

Refusing to listen to another person's viewpoint simply because it does not fit your mindset can lead in my view to the worst cases of abuse and yes, fanaticism.

I have found that even though I may disagree with my girlfriend at times, that disagreement does not invalidate her own belief in what is right. Though I make the decisions in the relationship, I always seek her input and agreement where possible. As a result, she never feels that her wants and needs are being ignored. If I were to take an absolutist view that I am right and that she is wrong, then I would a) be incredibly stupid and wrong, as I am just as fallible as the next man, and b) reduce her to being little more than a statue or ornament. A statue on a pedestal might not make mistakes, but it can't love either.

Though I have titled this piece “shades of grey” to distinguish it from black-and-white thinking, in fact, “love is a many-splendoured thing”, and my relationship with my girlfriend has many beautiful colours and hues. To view it in a monochrome manner would be to give less, to be less, to experience less and to live less than I could.


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The truth is not manifest

Thanks for this article, Paul. It sounds as though you and your girlfriend have a lovely relationship, and I am sure your girlfriend must appreciate your view that life is not always black and white.

Your warning will no doubt be very useful to many Taken In Hand folk. It is so true that infallibilist thinking is dangerous in Taken In Hand relationships. As the philosopher Karl Popper wrote: “The theory that truth is manifest—that it is there for everyone to see, if only he wants to see it—this theory is the basis of almost every kind of fanaticism. For only the most depraved wickedness can refuse to see the manifest truth; for only those who have reason to fear truth conspire to suppress it.” and “For the simple truth is that truth is often hard to come by, and that once found it may easily be lost again.”

However, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater and descend into relativism or subjectivism. If you and your girlfriend disagree, one of you or both must be mistaken. At one point in your article you seem to say something suggesting that two conflicting views can both be correct. That is incoherent. The problem is not that the absolutist-thinking individuals you speak of believe that there is such a thing as objective truth, it is that they do not keep in mind the idea that they are fallible. In effect, they are assuming themselves to be infallible.

Shades of Grey

I immediately identified with this topic! I would like to point out another reason for a person to behave so inconsistantly. Fear. Some of us have experienced many deceipts at the hands of others, and have learned to look for signs that the person isn't genuine or may be gearing up to disappear. One sign could be a change in consistancy of communication. The initial response is to feel defensive and a bit angry, but once rationality takes over, the sweetness returns. Sometimes a red flag isn't the kiss of death of a relationship, and could very well just be a sore point which needs more understanding and discussion.

"Red Flag Disease"—Gun Shy

This may very well be the main reason why my many recent relationships
have failed so quickly. I have a list of "red flags", and if any of
those show up it automatically terminates whatever relationship there
may be.