Tag Archives: biases

Light and Shadow and Truth

When I was in my twenties, I was a lot more sure of many things than I am now, decades later. I still believe in the same spiritual guideposts—God, the importance of faith to achieve true success in this life, the need to love in order to grow spiritually and intellectually. But I don’t think I understood back then all the ways that faith and love can be applied to meet the challenges of life. I’ve still got a lot to learn about that.

It’s interesting how the way we see things changes as we get more experience.

When we’re less experienced, we often see things in black and white. The black and white view can leave us with very strong impressions, but too often it misses nuance or details that give us a more complete picture.

The best of the cinematographers back in the 1930s and 1940s knew this. Watch one of the black and white classics—Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane—to see how filmmakers used light and shadow, the contrast of light and dark, to create or enhance a dramatic mood.

What do you feel when you look at the photograph above, with its contrasts deliberately enhanced?

But looking at only the black and white tones can leave out a lot.

Now look at the color version of the photograph. What do you see that you couldn’t see before? The beautiful flower that was hidden in shadow? The way that varied, multi-colored stones all contribute their distinctive strengths to the whole structure?

A lot of our attitudes are like that. Many of mine were sharply black and white when I was younger. But when we look at things only in black and white, we miss much of the nuance or detail that can help us fully understand the problem or challenge we face and its possible solutions. We don’t see the rose or the different strengths of the multi-colored stones.

Too often we can be blinded by our own biases. Sometimes they are so firmly entrenched that we can’t root them out.

Single-minded activists are especially at risk of this weakness, whether their cause is environmental, social, political, racial, or religious. Seeing only black and white, they may demand that everyone else pay as much attention to the highlighted areas as they do. They may miss details in the shadows that can lead to workable, practical solutions.

But, oh, it is so hard to give up some of our biases! I know it is for me. We are emotionally tied to them. There’s risk in letting go, for if our biases are false, then what can we safely hold onto? It requires humility and faith to accept that what we have believed is wrong, and that what we did not want to accept, or what we may never have considered before, is true.

Not long ago, my wife and I lay outdoors under the stars at night to watch a meteor shower. Our backyard was a world of black shadows, dark and darker. When you see those old color movie scenes of people outdoors in the moonlight (Maybe the cowboy and his sweetheart down by the river?), you know they’re false. We don’t see color by moonlight alone. Those scenes were shot through a dark filter in daylight or artificial light.

We need to remove the dark filters in front of our mind’s eye if we want to see the truth. We need to ask: Am I looking at this situation only in black and white?

When we look at people in these stark contrasts, comparing their actions with our own more righteous or intelligent choices, or with what we think they ought to be doing, we have a hard time seeing the full picture. Being able to see the full picture of people’s lives was what made Jesus Christ able to love the sinner while admonishing them to “sin no more.” (See John 8:3-11.)

When we’re serious about wanting to follow Jesus, we will make the effort to overcome the harsh black-or-white perspective that renders judgment based only on our own experience. We will learn to view other people and their lives through the richly hued filters of faith and love.

 It’s an effort that can take a lifetime. I know.