Spectra

“It’s not black and white, but many shades of gray.” You’ve probably heard this phrase before in different contexts. It’s usually applicable when someone is quickly jumping to a conclusion based on a dichotomy or series of categories. The main purpose of the phrase is to say that a dichotomy or group of categories does not include all possibilities. What we’re talking about is a spectrum, or multiple spectra (it’s a Latin word and that’s how they make it plural).

The concept of spectra is very simple yet very complex. If you are going to take a shower, in your mind there are three possible categories of the water: too hot, too cold, and just right. The final category is a small range of the possible temperatures of the water while the other two cover huge ranges. In order to better represent all of the possible temperatures of your shower, we have come up with units that we call “degrees.” Degrees cut the temperature up into specific numbers, but even whole numbers are not accurate enough to describe all possible temperatures. We have developed an infinite system of ranking with decimal numbers but my point is that any time we try to define something, there are bound to be areas that go undefined.

If there is more than one possibility for something, know that there is a spectrum with an infinite amount of possibilities between the defined ones. Light, and by extension color, is a spectrum. I once had a prolonged argument with a few friends over what color a flavor of Gatorade was. Some of us called it yellowish green, others called it greenish yellow. The argument was fun but useless since our categorization of colors is inherently limited to describe the nearly infinite possible wavelengths of light. Even responses like yes and no have a spectrum. I am sure all of you have been asked a yes or no question and your only answer is “a little bit of both.” A spectrum is meant to blur the lines.

Spectra exist everywhere, from wealth to gender, energy resonance to personality. The categories and names that we give to describe these spectra only separate. It is only when we all admit that we belong to the same spectra that we can truly come together. We don’t all have to be in the same place on the spectrum, but unless you are willing to place yourself on that spectrum you will forever believe yourself to be separate. Join us on the spectra, find where you believe you fit best and then just accept that there won’t always be a word to describe it. One of my good friends identifies as homosexual but when you ask him if he’s gay, he’ll say “I’m not gay and I’m not straight; I’m Aaron.”

This is not a rant against categorization. Categorizing can be helpful to communicate ideas, it’s also a large portion of how we store and access memory. Instead, I want you to think about the names we give to categories. Names are not set in stone, language is fluid and we can always change the categories as our understanding changes.

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