When I was in secondary school in Germany, most kids had a little diary book. We would give them to friends at school and to teachers we liked. They wrote a few things into the diaries. The idea was to create a memory of that person we could take with us. I still have this little diary. I thought it was worthy of me taking it with me when I decided to live in the U.S. for good. It is incredible to look back at it again all these years later.
I gave my diary to one of my very favorite teachers, Bernd Kuessner. He was my chemistry and physics teacher. Even though I had not looked at my diary in many years, I never forgot an essential aspect of what he shared with me.
He said that his favoriate motto came from the famous author Eugen Roth: “Ein Mensch sieht ein – und das ist wichtig. Nichts ist ganz falsch und nichts ganz richtig.”
These few lines translate to
“A person comprehends – and that is important. Nothing is completely wrong and nothing completely right.”Eugen Roth (translated from German)
Wow! I have thought about these lines many times since Bernd shared them with me.
I agree most things are not entirely right or wrong. Several perspectives are valid. Most topics don’t have binary answers: yes, no. Right, wrong.
Wouldn’t it be much easier if that was the case? Sure, it would. Yet, how constructive is it to treat matters this way?
When I came to the U.S. in 1989, I made a life-changing discovery. I had viewed America from a German viewpoint. Since I didn’t live in America, my perspective of the U.S. was from the outside. At the same time, since I grew up in Germany, I had viewed Germany from the inside. When I came to the U.S., I began to question many of the views I had taken for granted.
You could say, I looked at things with fresh eyes. I still do that every day as I’m working with businesses looking at their “status quo” with fresh eyes.
Let’s take public transportation as an example. Germany has an excellent public transportation system. [Yet, one might argue it is not that great in small towns. I grew up in one.] By comparison, Americans depend on their cars even more than Germans do. But America is also much larger, and many areas don’t have dense populations. The upside: many beautiful places, national and state parks, etc. The downside: less public transportation.
Simple notions of what is better or worse don’t do the discussion justice.
Another example: retirement. Should you pay the government more in taxes with the idea that you will get a pension when you retire? That is the notion I grew up with in Germany. The idea that you have to learn how to invest money for your retirement was foreign to me. Which is right? I could tell you what I believe now. It is not my intent to discuss the pros and cons of either method here. Instead, the point is this: Most times, more than one view has at least some validity.
Gray Zone Thinking
Imagine if we all listened a little bit longer and with our minds a little more open.
What if we resisted the temptation to quickly snap into one of two binary positions on any given subject?
What if we fought “black-and-white” thinking (and I do not mean that concerning skin color) but embarked on “grey zone thinking”?
What would be possible if more people subscribed to “gray zone thinking”?