I have decided that I am a gray person, and I’m not referring to the color of my hair. So many times, life issues or decisions or choices that one has to make require serious consideration. How will you support yourself? Who will you marry, if you marry? What is your religious belief? Will you be a courageous person, an honest person, a kind person––all of these, none of these? My dilemma is that because I rarely see things as all black or all white, I am often stuck in the gray area that is middle ground.

Most people agree that stealing from others is wrong, as do I. Yet if I were homeless with a hungry child to feed, I very well might steal some food hoping to come back at a later time to pay for what I stole. Also, murder is wrong. Yet many people, me included, would go to great lengths to protect our loved ones if they were seriously threatened. Every day we hear about the conflicts between Republicans and Democrats. Scientists debate global warming and how we can slow its progress. Educators take sides on how schools should be run. Doctors face ethical problems as very old or critically ill patients ask for help with dying. And the list goes on and on.

On an in-service day I attended during my teaching career, we had to take a personality test. After our whole staff answered all the questions and tallied our results, we were broken into three main groups. The first group consisted of the cut-and-dried teachers. They believed there was a right way or a wrong way to do things with little wiggle room. These people got things done, followed the rules, and always “colored within the lines.” The second group of people contained the artists, the creative souls that looked for unique ways to express themselves, rarely followed all the rules, and could get things done but not often in a straight line. And then there was the third group, my group. These people were the mixed group, somewhat creative, tried to follow the rules and do their required duties, but they could see that sometimes exceptions had to be made. I was in this group—the group that could usually see the gray area, the pros and cons, that were involved in sorting out most problems.

I find being able to see the gray area makes life a bit more difficult. I find it easy to be the devil’s advocate because all issues have at least two sides and sometimes many more. I’ve been told that when facing a hard decision, sit down and write out the positives and negatives, see which list is longer, and then go with your gut. The problem with that though is I’m not sure my gut is always right.

But what happens when a group of individuals has to work on solving a problem or politicians try to pass a new law or cities try to write policies to help draft building codes or solve health and safety issues? How do we get opposing sides to venture into the “gray area” so some sort of consensus can be reached? How do we teach the art of compromise?  

Having lived through the Vietnam era, President Johnson was never one of my favorites. Yet this leader knew how to get things done—how to get opposing sides to sit down and pound out a compromise. This strength allowed him to get more civil rights bills passed than any other president and for that he has earned my respect.

Is it too much to ask that we be willing to discuss both sides of an issue? Or to realize that if we reach consensus everyone becomes a winner? Maybe instead of being a red state person or a blue state person, we should all enter the state of gray and at least be willing to come to the table. Who knows? We just might learn something new or change our minds or get someone else to change theirs.


Melinda Wittwer first moved to Carpinteria in 1972 and taught mostly junior high students in Oxnard during her 25-year career. Now retired, she enjoys pottery, writing, books and travel.

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