Unpacking our black & white boxes

Growing up, I somehow came to believe that the world is made of good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, enemies and allies, friends and foes.

This world view seemed to work quite well, helping make sense of an otherwise complicated place. For example, I could immediately read the two quotes above and determine that that one is obviously from a good guy. And the other from a bad guy.

What I’m realizing, however, is that the world is simply not that simple. And that two radically different ideas, such as the two above, can come from the same person, at slightly different points in their life.

Which is actually what has happened, and that person is one of our beloved Amal Fellows, Aftab*

Aftab says that our Fellowship — and especially Jacqueline’s Life of Immersion Talk (in which she talks about alternatives to extremism) — changed his life:

I learned that Islam is a religion of peace, Islam itself means peace. I learned the Quran and understand the different verses that explained that concept of peace.

I learned that religious scholars are making manipulated statements on jihad and terrorism. I don’t like extremism, I became angry when people don’t give room to others point of view. I would like to make the world a happiest place to live.

While it might seem like we’ve changed Aftab’s life, I don’t actually believe the attribution to Amal or even Jacqueline is entirely complete. Perhaps what might be more true is that Aftab, and each of us, have infinite potential for good, but are also vulnerable to evil. And it’s the circumstances that we find ourselves in — or the boxes that others build around us (or free us from) — which influence our paths.

This might be a radical idea, and possibly suggests that if we can only change someone’s circumstances — or possibly even just our own perceptions of them — then perhaps we can help them become the best version of themselves.

This might seem obvious, but I’ve found that so often we default to boxes. To simplicity. To black and white, and labels, and good versus bad.

We call someone a terrorist, which implies they’re the bad guy, hopeless, violent and better off locked up or droned.

And sadly it’s not just good guys versus bad guys, it seems like we can black and white nearly every area of life: there’s always a right or wrong decision, a right or wrong way to solve a problem, people either get it or they don’t, something is either possible or not possible, safe or unsafe, if you believe/do this you’re going to heaven or hell, there’s a “perfect” career and a perfect spouse and a perfect time to start a new venture, and the list goes on.

And on the surface, it might seem like this compartmentalization makes life much easier and more packageable.

But is possible that, in our quest for simplification, we’re doing a disservice to the complexities of life? That we’re reducing our chances of seeing the deep beauty life can present? That we’re limiting our own potential?

At the very least/most, aren’t we at great risk of stuffing people into small boxes and compromising our chances of inspiring/unleashing some incredible people who might just have the ability to bring about a more peaceful and happier world?

*Aftab is not the fellow’s real name and the pictures shared here do not include him.

“it is common to take a dog for a walk, it is less common to take a dream for a walk” || @amalacademy + @understory cofounder | nature novel in progress

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