How often do you reflect upon nuance?

Today is January 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is "how often do you reflect upon nuance?" Today’s reflection centers around the word ‘nuance.’ The definition of nuance means ‘slight or delicate degree of difference in expression, feeling, or opinion.’ The etymology of the word brings us back to the 18th century from the French ‘nuance’ meaning ‘slight difference, shade of color, or shades’ and from the Latin ‘nubes’ meaning ‘a cloud, mist, or vapor.’ Nuance has been commonly used when referring to the different shapes, sizes, and colors of the clouds. How often do you engage in the slight difference involved with a topic, issue, or concern? When you examine the clouds do you accept how different they all are? Do you apply that same level of understanding in other aspects of your life?


Sadly, our world has grown more binary over the years while nuance has been pushed aside. Individuals with political or social agendas are the leading cause of confining nuance to the background. So too are those who lack the patience, understanding, and thought process required to consider the sophistication involved with nuance. Like most of the strategies discussed in this Navigate the Chaos series, nuance is hard work and anyone that wants to practice the art of living well needs to work hard at reflecting upon the nuance. If you are unwilling to work hard and do the hard work necessary to understand nuance, it will be difficult for you to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well.


Whenever you come across a political or social issue, remember the origin of the word nuance involves the complex characteristics involved with cloud. Clouds are not binary; just as no political or social issue is. Clouds are complex and are given different names based on their shape and their height in the sky. Some clouds are puffy like cotton while others are grey and uniform. Some clouds are near the ground, while others are near the top of the troposphere. Most clouds can be divided into groups (high/middle/low) based on the height of the cloud's base above the Earth's surface. Other clouds are grouped not by their height, but by their unique characteristics, such as forming alongside mountains (Lenticular clouds) or forming beneath existing clouds (Mammatus clouds).


Documentary film maker Albert Maysles noted "Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance." This about that statement for a moment. Why would a tyrant want the deliberate removal of nuance? The short answer is to eradicate all conversation. When you silence people and cease all discussions around the nuances involved with a specific issue, you can more easily manipulate them. Tyrants thrive on manipulation. They are often weak, incompetent, and conniving so they must find a way to distract the masses. Does your need to forgo the hard work required of understanding nuance outweigh the loss of liberty involved with the removal of nuance. Would you rather have a society that is binary, an either, or world, to avoid the hard work involved with discussing, thinking, and addressing nuance?

To add to the complexity involved with today’s reflection, it is necessary to now suggest nuance has its own limitations and, sometimes, can be counter to forward progress. In his "Fuck Nuance" paper published by the American Sociological Association in 2017, Duke University sociologist Kieran Healy wrote “Nuance can elucidate the complexities of the world but too often scholars use it to bury anything resembling a clear, forceful idea. We want our abstract concepts to do something for us, but nuance-worship makes us shy away from the riskier aspects of abstraction and theory-building. People just keep insisting on a more-sophisticated approach and act as though simply listing the many ways something might be more complex is the same as having a better theory of that thing. In such cases, levels and aspects and dimensions may just pile up in a heap.” And therein lies the nuance within the nuance!


At some point, those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well understand the value of nuance, and after discussing the dynamics of an issue, decide on a course of action. If your nuances ‘just pile up in a heap,’ forward progress will be nearly impossible. Let us take the example of the believe that ‘winners never quit.’ This is often used as an illustration of a binary issue: winners never quit, and quitters never win. You are on one side or the other. But this is ridiculous. Like most issues the binary construct is completely misleading, ignorant, and harmful.


Winners quit all the time. Winners quit smoking. Winners quit stop making excuses. Winners get themselves out of terrible relationships. Winners get better jobs. Winners learn a new skill and stop feeling sorry for themselves. Winners leave their comfort zone. Winners quit all the time. ‘Winners never quit’ is merely one of the many examples of nuance discussed throughout this Navigate the Chaos series.


How often do you reflect upon nuance? How often do you listen to opinions completely different from your own to engage in the hard work required to reflect upon nuance? How often do you force your opinions on others without any consideration of the nuances involved? There are far more than two sides to each story; there are as many sides as there are people involved. If you recognize, accept, and do the work necessary to reflect upon nuance it can help you navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well.