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A million subtle shades of gray

June 26, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Colin Spurway/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Colin Spurway/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Colin Spurway/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Colin Spurway/Mercy Corps

For the most part, black-and-white thinking doesn’t hold that true anymore for me. There’s nothing really akin to the moral absolutism of standing ground against a schoolyard bully.

These days everything is focused — or diffused — through the countless prisms of culture, society, history, individuality and situation. And what comes to light are a million subtle shades of gray.

Instead of the archetypal wrongdoers perpetuated by the media, doctrine and politics, it seems like today’s villains are — for the most part — forces rather than people. Of course, people often orchestrate or use some of these forces to their advantage, but others are squarely outside the sphere of direct human cause.

Just by taking a few moments to browse the 32 topics on our website, you can get an idea of the forces that people around the world struggle with every day. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find out how Mercy Corps is working to help families confront those challenges.

I can only think of one story I've written on this website where I assigned blame to a specific group. Usually, I’ve indicted forces like natural disaster or conflict as causes for adversity. Because, more often than not in this line of work, crisis is much bigger than one person — both in its onset and resolution.

Conflict shatters community into a million pieces, then cruelly scatters them across a troubled landscape, resulting in displacement.

The lack of water withers crops and bodies, causing desperation and conflict.

Unemployment erodes dignity and precipitates hopelessness, sometimes giving way to the extremism that assigns undue blame, feeds hatred and triggers conflict.

An absence of education results in misunderstanding of the surrounding world and opens the door for unkind manipulation.

And hunger compels families to make cruel, impossible decisions about their very survival.

These are sweeping forces, not single points of black or white. They’re complicated and constantly evolving.

They require all of us to change the way we think — and then act.