“It doesn’t have to be black and white.” These words were uttered to me the other day by a friend of mine, a phrase in which I’ve heard many times before. But what does it mean exactly? Immediately, Billy Joel’s “Shades of Grey” popped into my head and I searched my ipod, of which, I am embarrassed to say, was void of it. Having grown up on Long Island and therefore, an avid Billy Joel fan, I could not fathom this error on my part, so I set about to fix it. Needless to say that I have the song on cd, so I was saved. Some of the lyrics are as follows:

Shades of grey wherever I go
The more I find out the less that I know
Black and white is how it should be
But shades of grey are the colors I see

What does it mean exactly? Cynics would say that it means that there is no certainty to anything in life; optimists would say that there is always a possibility. I like to think of myself as a realist. I’m not sure if this phrase has been repeated to me because people feel that I only think in black and white, or because they want me to see things their way. Either way, whenever I hear this, it always makes me pause and think. The first thing that I do is reflect upon the reasons as to why it is being said. Modern technology today allows you to do that pretty freely; I’m still not sure if this is a good thing or not. There are definitely some things that I would like to forget without having to double-delete first. Alas, this is the way of the world now.

The more I find out the less that I know. As children and then young adults, we cannot wait to grow up; we strive for it. To us, growing up means that we gain an exuberant knowledge that allows us to be able to obtain thoughts on anything that we ever could want to know. Then, of course, as we get older, we realize that this isn’t true at all; that there is just so much knowledge in the world, it would be impossible to ever know everything.

In the first half of our lives, we are taught that things are either right or wrong and that there isn’t any in-between…in other words, everything is either black or white. Perhaps as adolescence, it is felt that we are unable to grasp things another way. Perhaps, having things concrete is the only way that anyone is ever able to learn or grow. But do we really need for things to be concrete in order to grow? If that were the case, why is it that everyone is so confused all of the time? Why doesn’t anyone know what they want?

“It doesn’t have to be black and white.” In the end, everything is either one thing or it’s another, nothing is half and half. Shades of grey exist because people don’t want to choose sides, because people don’t really want to think about what they want, to even know what they want…because people are afraid. People are afraid of what will happen if they give in to something, if they let all restraint go. I’m afraid of that too, but I’m also afraid of what happens if I don’t. What will I miss out on? What experiences could I have had if I just took that chance? The problem is, that unless you do, you’ll never know. Not everything may be worth it in the end, but the memories will be. Sometimes, the beauty is in the attempt.

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