Shades of Gray

To many folks out there, the world is black and white. Humans, and our descendants, have evolved and survived for millions of years, in part because we can react quickly and make snap judgments that keep us alive.

Today, though, we live in a different kind of environment, one with a lot fewer life-or-death situations. In the modern world, there’s more than enough room for a bit of nuance, but that doesn’t mean our instincts don’t kick in and cause problems from time to time.

One of the easiest situations to think about in these terms is getting scared. The fight or flight reaction is one that is fundamental to all humans, and the accompanying rush of adrenaline comes straight from a time when every day was a fight to stay alive.

Another interesting example of these black and white situations is an allergic reaction. If you have ever suffered through any kind of severe allergy, you know how frustrating it can be to deal with itchy skin, a sore throat, sniffling and red eyes. These reactions are the way your body deals with foreign substances, but in the case of pollen, cat hair, or peanuts, this reaction is incredibly overblown, and can actually cause harm or death.

If our bodies were properly able to understand nuance and context, a scary movie wouldn’t send a rush of adrenaline through our veins, and an allergic reaction wouldn’t cause its potentially deadly symptoms. These reactions saved our ancestors for generations, and they stay in our genes even though the majority of humans don’t live under constant threats.

Take humans’ instinctive reactions as described above, and apply them to a society and world where there is room for interpretation, and time to make judgments. Suddenly, we’re dealing with sexism and racism and discrimination based on categories that make no sense.

For example, transgender people face harassment and judgment every day, in countries around the world. Why? Because large parts of the world believe that either you’re male, or female. Our instincts, which have kept us alive for millions of years, were honed by making quick decisions and placing people and things into groups. Anything that doesn’t fit that categorization has been automatically wrong.

And in most cases, animals (humans included) are male, or female. However, in this instance, the edge cases are pretty important, and not *that* uncommon. This is especially important considering a doctor has a few seconds to determine the biological sex of a child upon delivery, even though that decision will almost certainly impact the child for the rest of their life.

Scientific studies have shown that the standard XX and XY chromosome sets are far from the only genetic combinations humans can have. Not only that, but many genes controlling secondary sexual characteristics, like hair growth and other physical attributes, have little or nothing to do with the sex chromosomes.

And all of this discussion doesn’t even get into the fact that sex and gender have no strong basis in science, especially when it comes to gender roles, personalities, or hobby choices. We set societal expectations based on race and gender as we live our collective lives, these things are not set for us.

The goal of this blog is to explore the gray areas that lie between black and white (and no, there will be no 50 Shades puns).

Leave your preconceived notions and assumptions at the door, they are only relevant once they have been tested and re-tested. It remains a challenge to navigate the modern world without stepping on any toes, but empathy is perhaps the most powerful tool we have. Don’t forget about it.


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