Gray is usually such an unattractive color.
The safe, uninspiring choice in fashion and design. The gloomy, unwanted harbinger of storms and aging.
It is the definition of blah-ness. An easy metaphor for deep sadness.
But at least in matters of politics and policy, gray happens to be a most beautiful color.
Indeed, gray is the color of the lens through which I view almost everything in this complicated, crazy world of ours. To me, it signifies empathy and thoughtfulness. And when followed, it often leads to necessary compromise, or – at a minimum – mutual understanding.
It is a mystery why people so often see this world in black and white, why they hew to rigid ideologies as if the very idea of keeping an open mind, of seeing multiple sides to key issues is an anathema, a sign of terrible weakness to be avoided at all costs.
Don’t get me wrong: Seeing things in shades of gray doesn’t mean you just straddle the fence and refuse to pick sides. That is hardly helpful and rarely appropriate. No, you still take stances, and you fight for them. And there may be, on rare occasions, controversial issues which you view in black and white – gay rights being one that comes quickly to mind – where compromise isn’t possible. But in general, when you see things in gray, you allow yourself to appreciate the logic that usually exists in the opposing view and you strive for middle ground where most of the workable solutions will be found.
Give me almost any controversial subject on the political landscape today – Abortion? Taxes and deficit reduction? Universal health care? Oil drilling? – and I can likely offer up a very reasonable argument for either side.
Take abortion, for instance. You will find perhaps no issue that polarizes people more than this one, and the intensity on both sides can be rather frightening. But all of the ethical, logistical, moral, medical and political debates concerning abortion are astoundingly complex, and for the life of me, I cannot fathom how pro-life and pro-choice activists refuse to respect and appreciate the other side’s point of view.**
Now I didn’t always disdain ideology; I used to be a pretty hard-core liberal, president of the Young Democrats club in high school, and even within the last five years a co-founder of one of the most liberal blogs on the Web. I still lean left politically, I suppose, especially when it comes to social issues, but in general now believe effective answers don’t often fit into easy slots and that rigid ideology leads people to overly simplistic group-think.
It may seem a bit hypocritical, but if I had the time, skills, and/or motivation, I would love to start a new political organization in this country: The Gray Party. The Grays would stress open-mindedness and freedom of thought. We would consider each issue separately and place great value on scientific data and research in determining policy. We would encourage healthy and respectful debate. We would embrace compromise and seek the middle ground as much as possible. If we even had a platform, it would be fluid and flexible, and party members would be free to take or leave whatever portions of it they wanted, without fear of reprisal. We would nominate the wisest, most qualified people in this country and demand of them only that they use their intelligence and vote their conscience while in office.
Yeah, I know: Totally unrealistic. Apparently, I dream in gray as well.
**Abortion is in fact an issue utterly surrounded by ‘gray’ areas, including a well-known, oft-discussed one surrounding the viability of the fetus, a key factor in the crucial Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision. The Supreme Court argued that a woman’s right to privacy – and thus her right to do what she wished with her pregnancy – was paramount up until the fetus reached a point of viability outside the womb. Alas, a ‘gray area’ in viability exists between the 21st week of pregnancy (before which no fetus is viable) and the 27th week (after which almost all fetuses are viable). The initial decision pointed to the end of the second trimester (week 28) as the cutoff date, but that has since been repealed as medical advances have moved up viability. But viability will likely always remain an imprecise ‘gray area’, one more reason why the abortion debate is such a complex one that it bewilders my mind when I listen to rabid activists on both sides.
When does life begin? What about personhood? Surely at some point, abortion becomes a form of murder. And should fetal dependency/viability really be the decisive factor regarding abortion’s legality when even after a full-term birth, a baby would quickly die without proper nourishment and care; yet in our society we view infanticide as one of the most horrific crimes imaginable.
On the other hand, the fact is, very few abortions happen after the point of viability, and are then often only done to protect the life of the mother. Even if you insist that life and/or personhood begins at conception, you’d have to admit that an early-stage fetus bears little resemblance to a healthy baby. For the first several weeks, there’s no heartbeat and no separate blood supply. Vital organs are non-existent or barely formed. A great number of fetuses will miscarry during early pregnancy without any intervention. So how is it not preferable that a woman who cannot or doesn’t want to spend all the necessary time, effort, love, money and care into gestating, delivering and raising a happy, healthy baby make the decision to terminate the pregnancy at an early stage.
Personally, I think many (but not all) abortions are selfish, awful events, and greatly admire women who choose to go through an unwanted pregnancy and pursue adoption instead. But I’ve done my share of selfish, awful things in my life, so who I am to judge. And while I believe it’s a million times better to see a pregnancy terminated early than an unwanted baby raised in a hostile, unloving environment, it’s frankly none of my business, or society’s business for that matter, what a woman does with her body. I agree the situation becomes much more complex after fetal viability, and generally have little problem with states’ restrictions on such later-term abortions, as long as the health of the mother isn’t threatened.
In short, it’s complicated. Shades of gray everywhere! And it seems as a nation we’ve stumbled upon a very workable, if fragile, solution, where abortions up to a certain point are legal and must be allowed, while states in more conservative parts of the country have a certain amount of flexibility, through various mechanisms, in restricting the number or type of abortions performed. The situation may not please everyone, and certainly doesn’t please the extremists on both sides, but that’s kind of the point.