Living in the Gray

Posted on November 17, 2022


Today’s Morning Buzz is by Jackie Wehmeyer, Senior Director of Strategy and Intergovernmental Affairs for the City of Parkland, Florida. Parkland was named one of the Best Places to Work in Local Government in 2021 by ELGL and a Top Workplace in 2022.

Connect with Jackie on LinkedIn.

What I’m Reading: A Billion Years by Mike Rinder
What I’m Watching: Season 6 of Better Call Saul
What I’m Listening To: Loving the vibe of Evergreen by Omar Apollo

A phrase I recently heard was “living in the gray.” I read a definition where it stated that when people are said to be looking at things in only black-and-white terms, they are also said to be inflexible. Therefore, to live in the gray is to be flexible, to see things from both sides, and to have an open mind. Gray is supposedly the color of intellect and of compromise.

It’s difficult to be blind to the polarization in the world today, and not just about politics, but about everything. Politically speaking, (and I will only take a second here, since I hate discussing politics) it seems that only the more extreme candidates are seriously considered for support. An NBC news poll showed that 80% of Democrats and Republicans believe the political opposition poses a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it. What? We’ve gotten to the point that a majority of Americans feel that an entire democracy will fall due to “the other party’s” efforts?

These times are difficult for our employees, especially when the world wants extremes, but we ask our teams to be open and creative. Unfortunately, the pandemic became politicized and polarizing for them as well. Despite the policies we all put in place, our employees still had serious debate with and about coworkers whether they were for or against masks, or for or against vaccines. Those undecided or contemplating followed the rules but, like politics, tried to avoid conversations over, “hey, did you get your vaccine yet?”

In our community, a recent issue of boundary changes to our local high school pitted those from one city against the other. Some residents felt that they needed to present options that only disfavored the other city and not necessarily options that would benefit either or both. Finding people who truly wanted a compromise and felt they could voice that opinion was not easy.

Nothing is more polarizing than social media – anyone looking for a fight will find it there. And anyone looking for facts will not. When one side’s appetite to find something negative about the other’s leads to the creation of fake or stretch-of-the-truth narrative, it forces people to think and act on emotion only and not analytically.

Personally, I hold certain basic ethics and beliefs that I will not “be gray” about. But listening to another’s point of view and considering it does not make one a waffler or soft. On the contrary, it means you have an open enough mind (and maybe heart) to listen and think. You may not change your mind, but you listened. And you may actually change your mind once hearing and considering others’ ideas, and that’s OK. How else do we grow?

At what point do we come back together? At what point do we accept, and embrace, differences in thought? As leaders, we can continue encouraging our teams to bring new ideas to the table, voice opinions respectfully, and ensure we create a safe space to do so. If we can help make those changes in a work environment, perhaps it will catch on elsewhere.

In the meantime, I’d like to stay in the gray. It may be a little lonely here, but I believe more gray will come our way.

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