Between White and Black : Shades Of Grey

Life, as we have been taught is always about the seemingly opposite ideas and words: right and wrong, dharma and adharma, justice and injustice, yin and yang, satya and asatya …the list is simply inexhaustible. Our eyes are accustomed to take in things, and our brain to simplifying information by processing it into either of the two categories. However there is much more to see than what meets the eyes and much more to understand than what the brain can comprehend. Everything in this world is a matter of perspective, a failure is seen by some as the end-point of their career while others view it as a stepping stone to success. The need of the hour is broadening of one’s perspectives by accommodating different ideas which on the face of it appear as contradictory. However, what one fails to realise here is a very important power granted to human being : Differential Perspectives. Each mortal being has been endowed with the priceless ability to think for himself, to ponder over ideas, to listen to his conscience, to shape one’s as well as collective opinions, to do what he feels is right in other words forming a perspective about life and the events which unfold on its canvas. It is this ability which should be respected and considered by others, a trait which is rapidly diminishing in today’s world. At every point in life you are forced to choose a side, take a stance and prove your loyalty to a particular school-of-thought. Any deviation from normal is scoffed at and regarded with suspicion.

A case in point being, the raging debate on nationalism. Either you are a right- wing fundamentalist or a left -wing -comrade. If you don’t agree with a bunch of fake ‘ hyper-national’ zealots, you may even be branded as an anti-national and told to leave the country! This is a direct blow to the bedrock of our democracy: Tolerance. This instigates polarization and flares up regional and communal tensions. You simply cannot be on the right side, since either side subjectively believes that it itself is right. It is human tendency to categorize people, judge their actions, deeds and conduct by classifying them into two antithetical groups : Good V/s Bad. This tendency blindfolds us to the major background against which the person acted or any event for that matter, that occurred in one’s life. Continuing with this parochial mind-set will not lead us ,as a race, very far and we are bound to be doomed. It is precisely this dogma, this irresistible temptation that we as a progressive democratic society should not fall prey to. When we have made up an image of a person as good or bad, we seldom realize and appreciate the context of his actions and the surrounding social background.

Let’s consider an example: You and your friend are sitting in a park. Out of the blue, his adversary comes and greets you and without talking to your friend ,leaves. After he has been out of sight, you are told these by your friend: “Look, the guy you just met is not good, he once had a fight with me over a petty sum, he’ll spread canards behind your back….falana falana.” Now your thought processes commence and you begin contemplating. ‘Maybe my friend’s right, today he exchanged pleasantries with me,who knows tomorrow he may turn hostile or spread lies? My friend always wishes well for me, I should take his advice seriously.’ With this your friendship with that other person was nipped in the bud even before it could blossom. What your friend might not tell you is ,how it was actually his own fault, how he fuelled speculations about the other person…or sometimes how he actually praised some of his right actions. Making opinions based on isolated, stray incidents cannot be allowed to shape our idea of the person. For if there is one thing in the universe which is constant is change.

Circumstances change, people change and so do regimes and ideas. And this change from a narrow-minded perspective to a more inclusive and broad-sighted vision is difficult, as is true for all transitions. Gender is one grey area which needs elaboration at this point. Traditionally, only 2 genders have been considered: male sex and female sex. However there is increasing recognition being given today to inter-sex/bi-sexual communities to be treated at par with the other two categories. For this is not a disease which needs to be cured, it’s a way of life, a reality which is different from one’s own and needs to be embraced wholeheartedly. As expected, this has been opposed by major religious schools and conservative-governments.Similarly in the profession of medicine, there is no doctor or any surgical operation, however advanced it may be ,which guarantees 100% success or total recovery, for doctors after-all all humans and there is always a scope for error-however minimal they may be. With this the first proposition of absoluteness is ended, however an equally challenging concept of duality warrants mention at this stage. We need to fortify this idea with the already existing two categories. Let’s consider Yin and Yang.

In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang is symbolic of the inter-relationship between two supposedly contrary forces(depicted by white and black halves) complement each other and are inter-connected and inter-dependent. Yin is the black side with the white dot in it, and yang is the white side with the black dot in it. Since China receives sunlight from the South, Yin (literally means the ‘shady place’ or ‘north slope’) is the dark area occluded by the mountain’s bulk, while yang (literally the ‘sunny place’ or ‘south slope’) is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed. Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, and nighttime. Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and active; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime. One simply cannot exist without the other, in other terms, presence of one is the reason for existence of the other and vice-versa.At the same time ,each has its own unique place. Duality is found in many belief systems, but Yin and Yang are parts of a Oneness that is also equated with the Taoism. The essence of this symbolism lies in the two small dots in opposite halves. Each has a trait/part of the other. They are not mutually exclusive, but are correlated. Taking them to be separate ,distinct entities is fool-hardy and a retrogressive step. This is the beauty of duality: there cannot be darkness without a shadow, stars shine only in the night.

One can also compare the symbol ‘Aum‘, the universal holy sound. As Amish Tripathi writes beautifully in his Shiva Trilogy, the top half in white represented the Chandravanshis, descendants of the Moon. The bottom half in red represented the Suryavanshis, descendants of the Sun. The part in orange coming out of the meeting of these two parts represented the common path. The crescent moon to the right of the symbol was the existing Chandravanshi symbol. And the sun above it was the existing Suryavanshi symbol.

Om as described by Amish Tripathi in his Shiva Trilogy books

Similarly , life is this magical and awe-inspiring combination of seemingly opposite ideas, thoughts, beliefs, events which in actuality are complementary to each other and enhance each other, the whole being greater than the assimilated parts which contribute to it and a common path unifying the two arises. What is beneficial to one may be detrimental to others, water is life for the dolphin, but death for the deer for which land is life. But an absence of either of these would not complete the jigsaw of Earth. Thousands of Flamingos undertake their annual sojourn from scorching deserts of Kutch hinterlands to the humid mudflats in Sewri, Mumbai, for what it is famous for, feeding on polluted waters (hazardous to humans) on which blue-green algae grow(favourable to flamingos).

This is what life is all about! Understanding and accepting different realities, appreciating others’ opinions, putting forth your own, having a constructive and healthy-discussion about which is more favourable in the context and choosing what is best for humanity. This can go a long way in our life as professional beings, when we communicate with our colleagues, senior and junior residents regarding the best line of treatment, best surgical procedure or while prescribing the most appropriate medicines. In the end ,it is the life of a patient which matters, setting aside personal differences, grievances or grudges. We should acknowledge the grey areas , be more flexible in our thoughts, be more compassionate and tolerant, and always put this moral before us in any situation: Humanity first and doing no further harm.

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