Wouldn’t it be easy if everything in life was yes or no, black or white, us or them? A few things fit the bill, and most of them are at school. A maths answer is right or wrong, a spelling is correct or incorrekt, Mr Magoony’s pony tail is not cool. But growing up, things start to blur. Answers are less clear, the bleeding obvious no longer bleeds and even zebras have grey bits. If that’s just my eyesight going, well fine because it makes life a lot more interesting.
Take fairy tales. We grew up on ridiculously perfect villains: the Ugly Sisters, the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White’s stepmother. They got their come-uppance and everyone else lived happily ever after.
Get real. It’s far more likely that Cinderella got bunions, the Three Little Prigs drove the neighbours mad with their curtain-twitching and Snow White ended up on Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.
Whether it’s in stories or friendships, politics or religion, the grey areas – the murky bits, the unknowns – are the places where we get the chance to grow in love and tolerance. So often we find different views scary or threatening and react with anger and hatred and war.
Humans are so good at focusing on difference: Christian or Muslim, dark-skinned or light, rich or poor. It’s easy to forget that our similarities are so much greater. We all eat, sleep, poop and crave love. The Ugly Sisters were no different, just less successful. How many insults and rejections had those poor unsightly girls endured, walking to school, propping up the wall at the disco and being overlooked by the volleyball team? Maybe they were sick of drop-dead Cinders and her smug smile and sent her to the scullery after one too many boasts. You can’t but feel a bit of sympathy. At the end of the day, all they wanted was a fair share of the love she hogged because of her looks.
It may be strange and troubling, and send us stumbling into the fog of the grey zone, but we do well to remember – we have to remember – that Isis fighters love their babies too.