Kentucky voices

See vermilion and turquoise, not just black and white

February 8, 2014 


Roger Guffey teaching at Lafayette High School in Lexington in 2009.


By Roger Guffey

As I have grown older, I have realized that Forrest Gump's metaphor that life is like a box of chocolates is not the best comparison. I would argue that life is like a box of crayons.

Let's think about the way we have learned to see colors. Science has known for a long time that even very young babies fixate on simple black and white images. By the time they can start coloring, kids have a simple box of maybe eight colors: red, blue, brown, violet, black, green, yellow and orange. As they mature, they graduate to a box of 12 colors, then 24, then 48. And finally, every child's dream: the box of 64 colors with the built-in sharpener.

We realize then that there are many shades of the simple colors. Reds can be vermilion, scarlet, magenta, red-violet; blues may be cornflower, turquoise, periwinkle, navy, and so on. (The original box had colors called "flesh" and "Indian red," but as Crayola embraced cultural diversity, the colors were renamed "peach" and "brick red.")

In a perfect world, as people mature they would learn that there are very few absolutes in the world: most things are not black and white nor are they even restricted to a few colors. There are nuances in slight differences. We teach our children that stealing is wrong, but we are soon exposed to the lesson of Les Misérables: If the only way to feed your children is by theft, it may be morally acceptable. We are reminded that "honesty is the best policy," but suppose being honest hurts someone else's feelings? No sane man will answer "yes" when his wife asks him if a particular dress makes her look fat.

Ideally, society itself should mature. From time to time, churches place little white crosses on their lawns to protest abortion. I can certainly appreciate their position. But there are currently over 400,000 children in the foster-care system and over 100,000 of those are available for adoption. A large percentage of them have severe mental or physical handicaps, were drug-addicted at birth, or are too old to be considered for adoption.

Along with protesting abortion and contraception, why isn't some of that religious effort and expense directed to finding homes for those who so desperately need one? Why does the life of a fetus have more value than that of an infant who already senses that he is unloved?

The right to bear arms is another hot topic. Certainly, our constitution guarantees American citizens the right to bear arms and nobody seriously wants to rescind that right. But a recent report found that at least 20 kids are injured or killed by guns every day in our country. Must we sacrifice children because we can't agree on laws which protect gun owners' rights?

When we are bombarded with news of horrific murders, we scream for capital punishment. Studies have shown that capital punishment is not a deterrent to murder: of the 25 states with the highest murder rate, 22 have capital punishment.

Last year, Texas wrote a letter of apology to the family of an innocent man whom they had mistakenly executed. How many innocent people must die before we stop compounding our errors? When we Christians pray, do we pray to a God of revenge or a God of justice?

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we passionately endorsed hunting down the perpetrators. After losing thousands of American troops to death and debilitating injury, we have continued the hunt with drone attacks which cause "collateral damage" to innocents. How many more women and children have to die before our vengeance is satisfied?

Political and religious differences have polarized us into a nation that sees only absolutes — stark blacks and whites — instead of one that envisions compromise and reasonable policies. Even though we have the biggest box of crayons available, sometimes we need to color outside of the lines.

Roger Guffey of Lexington is a retired teacher.

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