One day Kim wrote a social media post about how ugly our backyard is after having been ravaged by a cataclysmic storm. The harsh, violent, apocalyptic hellscape is heartbreaking.
And very, very ugly.
A well-intentioned commenter felt the need to correct her, “No, it’s beautiful.”
Of course, the commenter is right. It is beautiful, in many real and metaphorical ways. And the photos Kim has taken of the carnage have captured some of that beauty.
But you know what? It’s also ugly. Especially in comparison to what it was before.
It can be both. It is both. And that’s ok.
As I pointed out in my book, A Chance of Awesome, some people look at dandelions and see weeds.
Others – mostly kids – see wishes.
The thing is, both are true.
Or take cars. Automobiles are modern marvels that give us great freedom and save us enormous amounts of time. The industry employs nearly two million people. But about 40,000 people die in motor vehicle traffic crashes each year in the U.S.
So are cars good or bad?
Unfortunately, our rotten news media has conditioned us to operate without any nuance whatsoever because there is profit to be made in conflict. We no longer seem to have the capacity for critical thinking; we’ve been reduced to the infantile reflex that things are either “good” or “bad.” Every issue is presented as either black or white, red state or blue state, right or wrong, good or evil.
Ugly or beautiful.
When it comes to any story – especially the headline-grabbing issues of the day – we’ve been duped into believing we only have two options: be right or be wrong.
But life is more complicated than that. Life is both / and.
When your kid heads off to college for the first time, it’s natural to feel a sense of pride as they move into a new season of growth and independence. It’s also natural to feel sad that your day-to-day interactions with them are coming to an end.
Or when a loved one you have taken care of for years has passed away, you probably feel sad that they are gone. It can also feel nice to believe that they are in a better place.
But you can also feel relieved that your burden has been lifted.
That doesn’t make you a monster; it makes you human.
We live in a complicated world with unlimited shades of grey. (Yes, even more than fifty.) It’s not helpful to force everything into an absolute. We don’t have to walk around wearing rose-colored glasses, deluding ourselves into thinking everything is unicorns and rainbows.
Nor is it especially healthy to point out every potential storm cloud.
Both approaches are childish.
A mature perspective is acknowledging that life is filled with contradictions. There is good and evil, joy and pain, hope and fear intermingling in all of it.
We do have a choice about where we want our attention to dwell, which is one of our most overlooked and underused superpowers. But it’s important to remember that focusing on one doesn’t disappear the other.
Life is painful. It is also joyful. Sometimes on the very same day.
And that’s ok.
Acknowledging the ugliness is what keeps us from taking beauty for granted.