November 18, 2021

The Margaret Atwood Quote that reminds me to Soften.

 

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Sometimes, it’s too easy for us to neatly organize things into black and white or “good” and “bad.”

It’s especially horrible when we do this with people. We sometimes have to remind ourselves that a person who’s upset us, even with something minor, is not immediately the most evil person to walk this earth. It might also be that some of us are just inherently terrible with grey areas.

However, reading this quote from one of my favorite Canadians, Margaret Atwood, helps offer some perspective:

“Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.” ~ Margaret Atwood

I realized that being in-between—some of this and some of that—is possible. With this understanding, we can allow more grey areas to creep into our lives and our relationships. Margaret Atwood doesn’t let herself be too swayed by either the good or bad. She allows herself to see what is—and sometimes, that’s not such a neatly organized, black-and-white thing.

I liken this to Buddhism’s “middle way.” This is considered to be one of Buddha’s first teachings, which asks followers not fall into one extreme or another—pleasure or pain, good or bad, self-gratification or self-mortification.

I’ve seen the sentiment, “anyone living in a winter city without proper winter tires by now is just dumb,” floating around on social media after major snowfalls, and in years past, I would have agreed.

But this time, I disagreed. I was reminded that there are plenty of reasons why people aren’t perfectly prepared to drive in winter, with finances being a major factor for many. It’s not so black-and-white. Consider, after all, any time we’ve made a mistake or been late or were caught unaware. Does that make any of us dumb or lazy?

And with this realization, we allow ourselves to soften.

Nothing is all good or all bad, especially people, but it’s too easy to fall into that trap. More often, we do it with the negative things in life, but it’s also true for when things are really good—like the honeymoon phase of a relationship. Maybe even more importantly, it’s good to remember this when we’re beating ourselves up for our own mistakes and faults.

Whenever I find myself in that black-and-white mindset, I try to remember to be a “realist.”

That doesn’t mean we need to make excuses for someone’s bad behavior, or that we need to go searching for something negative when we fall into good times. But reality is much more complex than our black-and-white thinking and hardly ever neatly organized into simply good and bad. So, we can continue to do the work of softening ourselves with that notion, thanks to Margaret Atwood.

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