By Tim Hayes

As one ages, one faces an existential choice.  Do the opinions, assumptions, and beliefs accumulated over a lifetime become rigid, calcified, and inflexible – or does experience lead to a greater willingness to accommodate opposing views on the way perhaps toward dialogue and compromise?

It’s a question worth mulling right about now, as the 2016 presidential campaign gains steam.

Ready for some true confessions?  Four years ago, my thoughts had set like concrete into ramrod, immutable truths.  If you disagreed, you weren’t just misinformed and misguided, you were flat-out wrong.  But as more time goes by, something’s happened to alter the way the world gets viewed.  It reminds me of a song by Billy Joel called “Shades of Grey,” in which he sings:

Now with the wisdom of years, I try to reason things out / And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts / Save us all from arrogant men, and all the causes they’re for / I won’t be righteous again, I’m not that sure anymore / Shades of grey wherever I go, the more I find out the less that I know / There ain’t no rainbows shining on me, shades of grey are the colors I see

Watching and listening to some of the early hopefuls for the presidential nomination, I can’t help but think – and pray – that some of the more bombastic personalities will flame out in short order, after having grabbed the megaphone and had their noisy flash-in-the-pan moment.  Egomania may be one thing.  Rampaging egomania, in pursuit of the highest office in the land, is quite another.

What happened to meeting in the middle?  When did the belief seize so many millions of Americans, on both sides of the political divide, that something they consider the “best” answer to a problem must be the “only” answer?  And not just the “only” answer, but an answer that everyone must agree to, 100 percent, or all hell promises to break loose?

Does anything else in life work that way?  If you think your local supermarket charges too much for a loaf of bread, do you call out the store manager for a heated shouting match in full view of shoppers until you win back those precious five cents?  If a row of hedges falls directly on a property line, do you haul your neighbor into court for not maintaining it properly?  Holy Hannah, I hope not.

Let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best, as the politicians careen through the primaries and debates toward the nomination a year from now at the conventions.  (Good God, we have an entire year of this craziness ahead!)

Nobody’s always 100 percent right.  Nobody’s always 100 percent wrong.  Sure, some ideas and ideals remain bedrock, and shouldn’t be tampered with.  But for Pete’s sake, most things can still be approached with a pliable and open mind.  Not unlike one presidential hopeful, who, being confronted after citing an unanticipated viewpoint, said, “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”

The world remains chock-full of compromises.  “You can’t have everything,” as comedian Steven Wright once remarked.  “Where would you put it?”  There’s got to be room in the middle.  You know, where all the sane people live.

Or, again, as sung by Mr. Joel:

Once there were trenches and walls, and only one point of view / Fight ‘til the other man falls, kill him before he kills you / These days the edges are blurred, I’m old and tired of war / I hear the other man’s words, I’m not that sure anymore / Shades of grey are all that I find when I look to the enemy line / Black and white were so easy for me, but shades of grey are the colors I see

Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting

“Shades of Grey” Lyrics: Copyright 1993 Universal Music Publishing Group