Let me begin by saying that I have not read the book or seen the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. Therefore this is not a review or a commentary on either. Rather it is a commentary on how we react to things in our world, to how we create this world together. As the saying goes, things are not black or white; there are many shades of grey.
I have seen others critique the book and movie Fifty Shades of Grey; some have said that it normalizes domestic violence and torture of women. I can understand that concern given the propensity of violence towards women in our culture and around the world. I’ve also seen people say the movie should be banned. That’s where my personal demarcation of black and white comes in. If you don’t like the message of the movie then absolutely speak your concerns, share them far and wide if that’s what you feel called to do. Use it as an opportunity to start a conversation about how we end domestic violence. Do something positive and constructive with your concerns rather than telling other people they can’t watch the movie or read the book. The same can be said with any books people have tried to ban throughout the history of our country.
And yet, there are shades of grey.
Recently Sony Pictures chose a self-imposed ban on the release of its film, The Interview. I have my own opinions about whether that was all just a publicity stunt or not, but that’s a whole other shade of grey. Again this is not a movie I have seen. That was a personal choice for me. I had no desire to see it. For me the idea of creating a movie about the assassination of a living political leader was a poor choice, and not something I would want to support. So I didn’t, and I had a conversation with my daughter about why I made that choice.
I hoped the controversy surrounding The Interview would at least spark a conversation about conscious creation. It really didn’t. I hoped that out of the tragedy of the shootings of artists and staff members at Charlie Hebdo would come a continuation of that conversation. It did, a little. As a writer, filmmaker and artist I completely support freedom of speech.
And yet, for me there are shades of grey.
There is a quote from G.K. Chesterton that gives me pause, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”
I have the right to write whatever I want, whether it be inflammatory and unkind or compassionate and peaceful. The grey area is not whether or not I have the right to my opinion and to expressing that opinion. The grey area for me is whether I would be right in doing that if I know it would cause harm. Are we right in showing the video of a policeman being shot in the head in the streets of Paris or the video of a man being burned alive in a cage? Those were people who were beloved to others and I can imagine the irreparable harm those images may have caused.
Yes, sometimes we have to shine a light on wrongs in order to create change; I understand and support that idea. However, we have been shown so clearly by the non-violent movements led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others, that love can shine the brightest light. If you meet ugliness and judgment with ugliness and judgment you only spark more of the same. Yet, if you meet ugliness and judgment with kindness and love, you call out to the innate goodness in the other, whether you can see it in that moment or not. It may not always be easy and it certainly takes a knowing of the strength of love within you.
Recently on the radio program On Being, Krista Tippett spoke with Congressman John Lewis, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He spoke eloquently of the importance of love and compassion in our interactions with others.
“First of all, you have to grow. It's just not something that is natural. You have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. And in the religious sense, in the moral sense, you can say in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. So you don't have a right as a human to abuse that spark of the divine in your fellow human being.
We, from time to time, would discuss if you see someone attacking you, beating you, spitting on you, you have to think of that person, you know, years ago that person was an innocent child, innocent little baby. And so what happened? Something go wrong? Did the environment? Did someone teach that person to hate, to abuse others? So you try to appeal to the goodness of every human being and you don't give up. You never give up on anyone.”
You never give up on anyone. In the face of such blatant hatred and bigotry they didn’t give up on their fellow human beings. It’s a lesson I sometimes fear we are losing. It seems we give up on each other all the time, day after day, when we choose judgment over conversation, when we choose degradation instead of reflection, when we choose anger and hatred over love and compassion. We are giving up on each other.
It’s crystal clear in US politics where we can no longer even have a civil discourse with each other. Everything is either black or white, pro-life or pro-choice, pro-gun or anti-gun. We continually draw lines in the sand and say we have to stand on one side or the other. There are no shades of grey, no demilitarized zones, no common ground. Until finally we have reached a point where everyone stands behind their imaginary boundaries, whether those be national borders, state borders, political parties, the walls of religious institutions, the walls of our homes or our cars, or the edges of our computer screens. Everywhere we turn we have created imaginary boundaries that separate us.
For me, never giving up on anyone is about acknowledging that spark of the divine that Congressman Lewis talked about, in every interaction we have. While I might have a right to disagree with you, and yes, sometimes an obligation to speak up if I believe what you are doing is hurtful to others, yet I have a greater obligation to speak up with compassion, recognizing that spark within you. I must allow myself to see that spark before I speak, or write, or post, or tweet, or call, “Action.” Often that means we need to pause before we speak, write, post, tweet, or roll the cameras. In that pause we find the shades of grey. In that pause we choose not to give up on each other.
Viktor Frankl provides a beautiful reminder, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
As I look out at the snow covered landscape, I can see so clearly that there are many more than fifty shades of grey; within them may we meet each other, within them may we discover our growth and our freedom.