What’s your favorite color?
Is it gray?
Probably not. After all, gray can convey the absence of cheer. It’s also the color of cold cement. Pooh’s downer friend Eeyore is gray, as are the skeletons of damaged trees.
On the other hand, gray can be soothing. It’s comfortable and mixes well with other colors. Gray is the color of business suits and the hair of “wise old” women and men.
More than a color
Beyond its aesthetics, gray is a powerful force. Gray matter is a critical area of our brains that processes information and sends signals to our central nervous system. Gray areas challenge ideas and demand thoughtful attention. And gray whales span 39 feet at a weight of 60,000 pounds.
And then there is the gray–the space between the extremes of black and white thinking.
From unconscious conclusions to monumental decisions, we humans tend to limit our options. Through narrow thinking and over simplification, we often construct a false dichotomy of black and white. We contrast perfection with disaster, compare pros versus cons, and perseverate over now or never.
The Color of Truth
Simplistic concepts like good and bad make sense at the beginning of our lives, but once we understand the nuance of reality, they no longer serve us well. In a complex world of complicated beings, nearly everything falls into the gray.
Black and white extremes, rather than representing contrasting possibilities, hold between them all that is possible. Indeed, gray has been called “the color of truth”. The gray colors the reality and opportunity around us. Our ability to live in it enriches how we see and experience the world.
Coaching is all about the gray. Conversations that begin with the goal of a “yes or no” quickly shift into the gray of “what else?” or “how can I?”. Win-win negotiation moves the black and white of win-lose or lose-lose transactions into the gray of creative problem solving and mutual benefit. Innovation happens in the gray. So does relationship building.
Think about your own experience. Last time you evaluated a decision, how many choices did you consider? Were their differences stark? How do you categorize people, places, and things? Do you limit yourself to pre-determined outcomes?
Your Great Gray Reality
Having grown up in Central California, I fell in love with gray days at a young age. After three decades in one of the least sunny places in the US, I still feel a sense of opportunity in a gray day. For me they inspire introspection, peace, and productivity.
But gray days can also feel oppressively persistent and uncertain. The expanse of in-between can overwhelm you with its infinite possibilities.
To stay grounded in the gray, focus on what feels right for you. Remember the fluidity of action and change–very few of them are permanent. Avoid the absolutes of black and white, and accept the gray between. This is where you can shape the reality you want. And, whether you know it or not, you’re already there.