Black and white?

中国日报网 2015-03-27 12:46



Black and white?

Reader question:

Please explain “black and white”, as in: Victoria initially sees everything in black and white but does mature later in the novel. 

My comments:

To read it literally is to suggest that Victoria is color blind.

That is not the case, of course.

To say that Victoria sees everything in black and white is instead to say that to her, everything is clear cut, either good or bad.

It’s, like, either bright day (white), or dark night (black). There’s no blur, nothing in between.

In other words, she doesn’t see, say, Fifty Shades of Gray (to use the title of a movie). Or more.

Initially, Victoria sees everything in black and white because in the beginning of the novel she is young. As she gets older, she does mature and is able to see the color gray, which is a mixture of black and white. In other words, she now sees shades, subtleties and nuances.

In this state, I’m afraid everything may become kind of muddled and confusing to Victoria.

In real life, we see children, at movies, ask, always: Is this a good guy, or bad guy?

Children are simple. They want and are always able to see the simple truth.

Adults, however, see a much more complex world. To them, truth becomes illusive, hard to grasp. Let’s put it this way: the truth is seldom true and never simple.

That’s because they don’t see pure black or pure white but a mixture of.

In other words, they no longer see a clear difference in people or things. For example, the soldier in the movie American Sniper is in a way a hero because he, the real man, fought on behalf of his country. In other ways that soldier is a murderer because he killed innocent women and children.

If a child asks me in the cinema if that sniper is a good guy or bad guy, I’ll find it easy to say:

That’s hard to say.

It won’t be easy to say so to a child, of course, but, you know, even though the guy is depicted as a good guy in the movie, it’s really hard to say.

Alright, here are media examples of more people who view the world in “black and white”, metaphorically speaking:

1. Former world leaders, including Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former U.S. President George Bush, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Polish President and Solidarity union leader Lech Walesa, and the wife of the late French President Francois Mitterrand, were all awarded high state honors in Prague on November 17, conferred by Vaclav Havel, former dissident and currently president of the Czech Republic.

The visit of the former leaders was planned as a largely ceremonial occasion. However, at a panel discussion that preceded the awards ceremony, participants sharply disagreed over the significance of the anti-Communist revolutions and their aftermath. The talk laid bare the ideological rifts that still exist among some former adversaries and that could threaten to bring more divisions between East and West in the next century.

Ms. Thatcher called the fall of communism a triumph of freedom and capitalism, especially as espoused by Britain and the United States. She took a large measure of credit for the collapse of communism and said the two countries provided a shining example for the East to follow.

Ms. Thatcher stated the best thing the United States and Britain could do would be to continue exporting their values and way of life abroad. “I think our task today is not to ponder what happened in the last 10 years but to see how we can extend liberty to those countries that do not know it,” she commented.

Ms. Thatcher’s views earned a gentle rebuke from the moderator, Oxford history professor Timothy Garton Ash, who noted that other European democracies had also perhaps contributed to inspiring the East’s quest for freedom.

It was Mr. Gorbachev, however, who took on Ms. Thatcher directly, accusing her of Communist-style rhetoric in the service of a narrow ideology. He said that if anything, the past 10 years have proven that new ideas are needed - something approaching a synthesis between capitalism and communism, to solve problems in an increasingly global world economy.

“I think that just as an inferiority complex is a bad thing, a victor’s complex is no less harmful. I think we should say that no single ideology at the end of the 20th century can answer the challenges of the 21st century and the global problems that stand before us - neither liberal, nor communist, nor conservative,” said Mr. Gorbachev.

He also reminded Ms. Thatcher that it was the Communists who saw everything in black and white, and he questioned whether she had not stumbled down the same path.

- Former world leaders discuss the meaning of events in 1989, The Ukrainian Weekly, December 5, 1999.

2. I’d like to dedicate this column to lone rangers.

That’s the term that a Halliburton lawyer used in a legal proceeding this week to describe Anthony Menendez, a former director of technical accounting research and training at the oil-field-services company.

Menendez claims he was forced to resign from Houston-based Halliburton after he accused the company of using improper accounting to inflate earnings and "distort the timing of billions of dollars in revenue," according to his complaint.

Halliburton says the allegations are untrue.

Menendez is seeking protection under the Sarbanes-Oxley law, which was designed to shield corporate whistle-blowers from retribution.

Congress created that provision of the law after lawmakers found that in the corporate scandals of Enron and WorldCom, employees such as former Enron executive Sherron Watkins faced retaliation for raising concerns about harmful corporate practices.

It’s often too easy for companies to dismiss such concerns as an annoyance, as the ranting of someone who’s lost touch with reality.

Consider how Halliburton attorney Carl Jordan described Menendez before the judge: “He saw everything in black and white, and he thought he was always right, and everyone else was wrong.”

- Support for ‘lone ranger’, by Loren Steffy, Houston Chronicle, September 26, 2007.

3. Though the origin of this quote is uncertain, there is no doubt in its application to today's political interactions and conversations. The reason we have such incredible dysfunction in Washington, DC and around America is not because we are confused about what solutions might work, but because too many on each side of the aisle are certain about their positions.

It is uncomfortable to accept our doubts, sit in our confusion, and allow uncertainty to exist within our hearts and souls. Faith is having doubts and believing anyway. At a time when we think we know all the answers and have what seems like infinite information, we miss the importance of pondering more fully the questions. And that is the wise course in leadership. We have an abundance of knowledge today, and a lack of wisdom.

In today’s politics certainty reins, and doubt is pushed aside as a sign of weakness or naïveté. And because certainty is the standard, this country faces a crisis of faith. We seem incapable of holding for any period of time any doubt about what might be the right answer. We jump quickly to the answer and don’t allow time for unknowing to provide a way.

If we would allow for more doubts in our conversation and be more open to alternative approaches and we might actually come closer to finding solutions that are out there, but can't be found through all the certainty that exists among members of both major political parties. And by holding ourselves longer in an uncertain space, we can begin to rebuild faith in our political leadership. Today, we seem to be going in the opposite direction of real faith.

Many people today are victims of their own confirmation bias. They so badly need the right answer fast that they seek out only information that confirms their opinions, and ignore information that may raise doubts. And when these opinions are only reinforced with gathering confirmation in a biased way, they become “facts” (or certain) in their own minds. And once somebody feels their position is a fact, there is no way to have an open conversation.

We have media outlets representing each side of the aisle that contribute to this crisis of faith by confidently and consistently expressing the certainty of their positions. Not allowing for any real debate or discussion, or more importantly, doubt to emerge in discovering a way forward for our country. They assert with unmitigated certainty the rightness of their position, or the wrongness of the opposing side. Each side sees America in a black and white way with no room for grays (or doubts).

- A Crisis of Faith in America,, May 15, 2014.






About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:祝兴媛)


上一篇 : Hot water?
下一篇 : Mind over matter



















关于我们 | 联系方式 | 招聘信息

Copyright by All rights reserved. None of this material may be used for any commercial or public use. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 版权声明:本网站所刊登的中国日报网英语点津内容,版权属中国日报网所有,未经协议授权,禁止下载使用。 欢迎愿意与本网站合作的单位或个人与我们联系。