Living in the multitudes

Tiles displaying various shades of gray. Seeing life in gray rather than from a binary perspective allows an individual to accept reality for how it is. Photo by Pixabay/Pexels

Recently I’ve been trying to replace the “ors” in my life with “ands”. I’ve been trying to see life in the gray, rather than the black or the white. After countless years spent trying to figure out if I’m an extrovert or an introvert, if climate change is the fault of the individual or of our structures or if people are quintessentially good or bad, I’ve realized all can be true at once.  

Navigating life by trying to categorize everything into a binary makes sense since it is an easy way to understand the world around us, but ultimately it’s fruitless and inaccurate. I don’t want to live in the black and whites, but rather in the multitude of grays that make up our day-to-day. 

I’ve been vegetarian for the past six years, trying to do my part in reducing meat consumption for the sake of the environment and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This past year or so, I’ve been grappling with these ideas: Is it up to me and all of us individually to stop eating bacon, egg and cheeses in the morning, or to take five minute showers instead of 15? What about how I’m doing that while BP spills oil in the Gulf of Mexico

This isn’t to say that reducing individual contributions to the climate is futile. It’s more about navigating a relationship with resources, people, myself and the world around me in a mindful manner. It’s because both truths exist at once: I’m going to reduce my individual carbon footprint and I’m going to demand a future that relies less on fossil fuels and utilizes renewable resources — and I’m going to try to not feel guilty if my shower lasts 25 minutes. 

Once I realized how deeply saturated this black-and-white mindset was in my life, I recognized how it seeped its way into almost every aspect of my life — from the small things, of reflecting upon my week and deciding if it was good or not, to larger things of deciding what to do post-graduation come May. 

The truth is that my week was both bad and good. I know how simple that sounds, but the idea of accepting multiple truths existing at once has been revolutionary in my life. When I apply this mindset to thinking of post-graduation, I’m hit with the realization that no matter if I move to California or stay in New England, I’m going to both enjoy my decision and not enjoy it. Either path will be filled with moments that make it all worth it and moments where I question my decision. It’s why we need to switch our “ors” to “ands”.  

I am going to graduate. If I move far away, I am going to experience moments of joy and moments of longing. 

I am no longer vegetarian, and still I care for the planet and aim to reduce my carbon footprint. 

I am an introvert and an extrovert. It all depends on the phase of life I’m in and how I connect with myself.  

This idea of acknowledging how all events, people, emotions, etc. are composed of opposing traits is from “The Power of And,” a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) practice. It is rooted in accepting reality for how it really is, rather than how we wish it existed. The result of reframing my mindset with this has been transformative for me. I’m appreciative of my own ability to accept different truths for a single situation. 

I understand how labeling things into a category of good or bad could be helpful — it gives people a sense of control which, in turn, fuels autonomy. However, ultimately living life with a binary mindset is more destructive than it is beneficial. It restricts us, narrowing our understanding of our day-to-day life. It’s freeing to realize we don’t have to subscribe to labels that have been constructed before us. It’s freeing to let things exist as they are without warping them to fit definitions we’ve created.

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