Doing the Work of Nuance

Nuance is “a subtle distinction or variation.”  Effective communication between people that are joined by a mutual endeavor can ensure progress in whatever group we are involved in—Greek groups, student government, the campus or community at large.  In order to have that effective communication, we have to do the work of nuance, or said another way, recognizing (and even embracing) our differences. Here are some related points.

Categorizing People Based on our Own Familiarity Makes Us Less Safe

Often, our first and most important need is to feel safe.  When we were young, we were taught not to talk to strangers.  We do not know them. Also, as a young vulnerable person, one may not have the judgment to discern who is good and who is bad, or the strength to protect oneself if need be.  As we grow up, we equate safety with familiarity; i.e., whom we are normally around, what we normally do, and who we normally do it with. When we get older, and we are off at college, or at work, or otherwise out of our normal mix, our inclination toward safety has us categorizing people based on that familiarity. That keeps us from leaving our comfort zone and prevents necessary growth. In most aspects of life, the goal is growth.  So, if we are not growing, we are not “safe” at all.     

Using “Ism’s” Does Not Take Work; Exploring “Isms” Within Does

Racism, sexism, and other “Isms” are a natural, even if unintended progression from a need to categorize others and therefore feel “safe” ourselves.  Admittedly, recognizing and dealing with “Ism’s” takes getting out of your comfort zone.  It is one thing to talk about an “Ism.” It does not take work to point out an “Ism” from the sidelines.   It is another thing to recognize that “Ism’s” affect all of us, despite our best intentions. You can be part of the problem with racism, or sexism, without knowing it.  When we make that realization, then necessary, earnest work toward progress can begin. 

We Want Others to Use Nuance When We Do Not Do It Ourselves

From ethnic groups, to professions, to political parties, it becomes natural to put all of a certain type of person in a negative category. Ironically, many people fail to recognize nuance while complaining that others do the same.  So, while it may make us feel “safe” to categorize everyone that is part of a certain group, stripping away generalizations and making personal contact helps us explore a mutual humanity. Simply put, a nuanced approach will have us judging people and situations individually, and not based on our generalizations.  When we recognize the need for a nuanced approach, we find that we are alike in many ways, and that earnest differences can be celebrated and not feared.  

Difficult Conversations Can Happen in “Safe” Spaces we Create.  

Many equate safety with ease and familiarity.  As a result, many take the need to feel safe to mean that we should not have difficult conversations about our different experiences as people.   In fact, we must have those difficult conversations. We can be reminded (or informed) of our mutuality when we come together in a common endeavor, like going to school, working together, or listening to Drake (for me, Stevie Wonder!). Recognized mutuality (despite real differences) can be the platform on which useful and forward-thinking conversations may stand.  When participants approach those conversations as if we actually contemplate a future together, our difficult conversation can occur in a “safe” space.  

Nuance recognizes the subtlety of differences.  It’s like saying “we’re different, but not by much!”  Recognizing nuance is important, because differences between people should not be so great as to preclude communication and progress.  Doing so will remind us that, even while we are different, we are still very much the same.