The Truth About Nuance; It's Really Hard to Embrace

To say that COVID-19 has exposed many, many flaws in how our society and economy function is an understatement. I mean, really, what household, business or industry, or branch of government hasn’t been affected to some degree? 

I don’t know if the same is true in your circles, but in mine, the exposure has sparked some spirited conversations about capitalism. Or more specifically, about anti-capitalism. 

I’m finding the discussions I’ve been having with friends, clients and colleagues fascinating. Especially when the other person is firmly against capitalism. 

Here’s why: I am not anti-capitalism. 

To be clear, I am against the form of capitalism that puts profit over people. But, I wholeheartedly champion capitalism that focuses on the triple bottom line, or 3Ps: people, purpose, profits. And not the version of 3Ps that is used simply as a manipulative accounting tool. 

Rather, I am a fan of the version that uses the 3Ps as a way of measuring who and what is impacted and how when it comes to thinking through the business decisions and choices made.

Do we, as a culture and society, need to reform how we currently “do” capitalism? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes! But, without it, I and many others wouldn’t have the choice or chance to start and grow businesses. 

So, the capitalism vs. anti-capitalism debate is a very personal and nuanced one for me. And the subtlety in the middle reminds me of when the debate is about anything where the tendency is to frame it as: Right; Wrong. Yes; No. Best; Worst. Good; Bad. Success; Failure. 

Sure, there are some things in life (and business) that are clearly binary. But from first-hand experience, observation and working with clients, the conclusion I’ve come to is this: much of life is a little murky. Thus, addressing the more complex questions and challenges of life, business and policy are rarely as straightforward as may be preferred.

Context Matters

The more complex aspects of life almost always necessitate an understanding of context. For me, context is what anchors facts. 

Here’s an example, one I often use during some presentations: 

Let’s say I gave everyone reading this $1 and said come back in 30-days and tell me what you did with it. Some of you would have saved some or all of it; others of you would have invested some or all of it; some of you would have spent it all; and some would have done nothing (you’d still have the $1). Any of these choices are “right” because you likely made the choice based upon what was happening in your life at the time. In other words: context. 

(Btw: if you raised your nose because the example references a dollar, may I remind you that what you do with a dollar is what you’ll do with more than a dollar. #justsaying) 

Here’s another example:

The wage gap between men and women is widely reported. Using data extrapolated from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Center for American Progress states the following for every $1 a White man earns: a White woman earns $0.79, a Black woman earns $0.62, a Latina/Hispanic woman earns $0.54, an Asian woman earns $0.90, and an American Indian/Alaska Native woman earns $0.57. 

For many women closing the wage gap is not going to come from working for someone else. It is going to come from entrepreneurship. 

Capitalism is what makes the option of entrepreneurship even possible. 

So, when I hear that someone wants to abolish capitalism entirely, my thoughts immediately go to, but what about me and those who look like me? What are our options for not only having our livelihood, but creating wealth and a financial legacy, too.  

As you can probably tell, I can get rather riled up about this… 🙂

Why am I bringing up the matter of nuance almost five months after the initial shutdown for many of us? 

Whether your world has been turned sideways or entirely upside down by COVID-19, nuance has and will likely continue to play a key role in how you address what you’ve identified as needing to be fixed because of. Not only that, nuance is what will help ensure that as you endeavor to solve one problem, you are not inadvertently creating a new problem elsewhere in your life. 

The dictionary definition of nuance is, “a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.” 

I remind myself of this whenever my feathers get rankled during a conversation about capitalism. For starters, it reminds me that there isn’t one single answer or solution for all. Second, it reminds me that nuance is all about interpretation, perspective, and the details (emotional and otherwise) being weighed. Again, context.

Therefore, whether the issue is as broad as capitalism, or as narrow as a question like, “should I save or pay down debt?,” the “right” answer always depends. And often the “best” answer isn’t either/or, but a combination of both/and.

2020 Vision

2020 is all about having perfect vision, right? Well, this year has certainly made the truth of what is broken in how our society and economy functions clearer to see and harder to deny

The same may be true when it comes to matters closer to you and your household, and maybe your business.

2020 is an invitation to rethink EVERYTHING. And that rethinking process will require nuance.

I know, I know. You’ve heard it countless times by now.

You’ve heard how COVID-19 has forced our collective and individual hands when it comes to rethinking how we live, work and socialize. How it’s disrupted businesses and entire industries. How it’s prompted a rethinking of how our government functions. Not to mention how it has put a brighter spotlight on social, racial and economic injustice.

But how much attention have you paid to how nuance will help solve the flaws and weaknesses exposed because of COVID-19? (Or any problem or challenge, really.)

Nuance is often less comforting than binary options like right;wrong, yes; no, etc. Nuance means operating in the gray zone. Nuance means welcoming a bit of mystery.

Mostly because so many of the decisions or choices that need to be made by you and me are rarely clear cut. And in my opinion, this is why I believe nuance is hard to embrace. Yet, doing so is incredibly necessary. Particularly in times of crisis and prolonged, hyper-uncertainty.

So, here’s to all of us getting more and more comfortable with the truth and power of nuance.

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