Thursday, March 19, 2009


This post is in response to a writing prompt

at Mama’s Losin’ It: “I used to think......”

        I used to think in black or white.
My parents were very religious and extremely judgmental. Our religion was good. Everyone else’s was bad. Other people didn’t have the true religion, so they were going to hell. We, of course, were on the path to heaven.
My father often told us how lucky we were to have a mother who worked hard and was modest, not like the woman next door who, when her household chores were done, drank a beer in her lounge chair while catching some rays in her short shorts and halter top. My mother told us how lucky we were that my father didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or swear like one of the in-laws.
My parents looked down on people who were unmarried or divorced, who had no children or too many children, who wore old fashioned clothes or who were trying to be pretentious by wearing the latest fashion. This person was too liberal. Another too conservative. Moderation was everything, except in religious fervor.
The people across the street didn’t keep their house as clean as my mother would have. The neighbor with bleached blond hair must be a hussy. The eighty year old woman down the street had a coat that wasn’t long enough to cover her dress. We had to dress up to go shopping. We had to wear white gloves to church, even in ninety degree July temperatures, or people might think we didn’t have any. Appearances were important, too.
When I went away to college, the girl who was assigned to share my room was a bleached blond and a cheerleader ---a double hussy --swore freely and was a lapsed member of one of those other religions. I met students who smoked, drank, and weren’t religious at all. Gradually, I realized they were intelligent, witty, kind, generous, fun, and good people.
        I concluded that my parents had lied to me. I don’t mean they lied on purpose. They had conveyed the narrow values that they believed. Nonetheless, it angered me that they had created a narrow, biased view of the world.
        After college, I lived and worked in Brazil as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There I learned that no countries, peoples or cultures are superior or inferior to others.  They are just different.
I have a theory that each of us is much more like our parents than we like to admit, but there is always something about our parents that drove us completely bonkers, so we have rebelled and are their complete opposites. I have worked hard to shed my parents’ black and white world.
Although no one is free of judgment, I try not to be judgmental about things that aren’t important. I would be a harsh judge of someone abusing a child, but I don't care what they wear. I am concerned more with a person’s character than their religious beliefs or lack of beliefs. Swear words don’t bother me as long as they aren’t directed at me or someone else with hostility. Even when I am convinced someone is wrong in their thinking, I try to imagine where they are coming from, what advantage they see in their opinions. Unless people are abusing alcohol, drinking doesn’t bother me. Unless someone is unnecessarily hurting themselves, another person, an animal, or the environment, I prefer to live and let live.
I have, on occasion, been accused of not taking sides, of looking at things from another’s point of view instead of supporting a friend’s agenda. A writing professor once told me I look for life’s balances in my writing. For example, in a class assignment to write something from a soldier’s point of view, my soldier worried that, while he was deployed, his wife would not be able to handle the things that had always been his responsibility and, at the same time, he worried that she would be able to take care of everything very well without him.
Instead of narrowing my point of view by seeing everything in black or white, good or evil, right or wrong, I prefer to perceive and embrace diversity, to see everything in many shades of gray, and to paint the world with brushes dipped in a multitude of rainbow colors.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)


Dan said...

The shades of grey versus black and white comes up with a group of my friends. T, a recovered alcoholic has to see the world in black and white because if he goes to grey he struggles to retain his sobriety. The rest of us are pretty much grey shaders. I suspect as we get older, grey shading becomes more and more the norm unless we have ossified in place. {*grin*}

Anonymous said...

I can't even tell you how much I loved this post. Seriously. I loved it.

Carrin said...

I like your way of thinking! I like to see things from each side also. I know many many people who are quick to judge and I although I don't judge them, I don't understand them either.

NateAndJakesMom said...

What a wonderful post. I have so much in my head... I keep typing and erasing because it isn't coming out right. Basically I wish I could think more like you. I fear I am thinking more black/white the older I get. I will try to do better.

Jaime said...

very nice post. i usually live in the grey - law is so often not black or white

Jenners said...

This was a fabulous post. My grandmother was a very black and white person and it perplexed me so much as I was raised in a very "shades of gray" household. It can be confusing when you find out that your parents weren't necessarily "right" about things.

I love how you illustrated your post with the photos too.

This was a great post.

And I wanted to thank you for your great comment on the classic book list from my book blog. It was a great fun to read and I know what you mean about not being sure if you read the book or just saw the movie. I had the same thought about Dr. Zhivago!

Dina said...

This was a really good post. Sometimes I think it would be easier to see things in black and white, but extremely unfair. I try hard to refrain from making quick judgments and to always be open to listening to all sides of the story.

Also, thanks for commenting on my "Green Bananas" post. The comment - "Boy, he doesn't buy very many green bananas." - was actually referring to someone who is a pessimist and hypochondriac and never sure if they'll be alive the next day or week. I have a great aunt who's had that attitude ever since I've been a child.

maryt/theteach said...

CJ, you speak of tolerance and understanding which is so wonderful. And yes you can post a piece of your own art or a photo-edited photo on Ruby Tuesday. We'd love to have you participate. :)