The colors we paint of others

Some people say that their parents are lenient to them, while others say their parents are strict.

At first, it seems like there is a ‘black and white’ perspective to parenting: parents are either strict or lenient.

Image of a strict vs lenient parent

But to think that parenting style is solely a black-and-white phenomenon is, to me, a little shortsighted. I believe that there is an endless, continuous spectrum from extremely strict to extremely lenient, with each point being a plausible degree of strictness/leniency that parents may adopt.

A spectrum of

But let’s step beyond just parents. We can also say the same for our siblings, relatives, friends, partners, teachers, etc. In fact, ditto this approach to any other attributes (kindness, patience, morality, etc.) and we will get a picture painting the unique collection of attributes that characterize any single person. Through this viewpoint, we see others as a combination of colors, each representing a degree along the spectrum of a particular attribute.

It is, admittedly, quite convenient for us to see people through the black and white viewpoint. It is easier to remember two things than a spectrum of things.

But once a label has been put on a person, changing it can be remarkably difficult. In our mind, if there are only two labels, a lot has to take place for us to switch the label for who that person is. It is an extreme leap of faith and a challenge to our fundamental beliefs to suddenly categorize a person as “lenient” when all this while we have labeled them as “strict”.

On the other hand, a spectrum of continuous colors makes it easy to imagine gradual changes. By seeing through the spectrum viewpoint, we give ourselves the permission to reimagine the way we see that person. The colors we paint of others are not as strict and limiting as a label.

In a way, we become artists painting our way through life, where every brush stroke adds to our previous interpretations of our relationships with the people around us.

The overall quality of our relationships is defined by the color palette we use, and so it is ultimately up to us to decide if we want a black-and-white palette or a fully-colored one.