No Room for Nuance

Recently a colleague commented to me (in person) about something I’d said in one of my blog posts. What I had written was a bit of a throwaway line, and while it wasn’t inaccurate, his point was that it needed greater nuance. I agreed, and mentioned that I am more than happy for those kind of things to be pointed out in comments – I love getting responses and differing ideas to what I share! But I take his point that in this format it can be very difficult to offer a nuanced perspective without being seen as disagreeing with or undermining the wider point.

One of the challenges with blogging is keeping posts short and readable. What gets sacrificed is the ability to provide nuance, details, explanations, caveats. Obviously this is even more so with platforms like facebook or twitter – it’s very hard to leave room for nuance in 140 characters!

When what is written on a blog or tweet is seen as a thought starter or a distillation of key ideas, and there is space to reply, comment, question and interact, it’s a great format. The problem as I see it arises when ideas expressed in these forms are taken as full and final statements, or when we assume that what someone has said is the only thing they think about a topic, or that they are not open to further discussion, or that new information would not change their perspective.

What really bothers me, however, is that this inability to leave room for nuance seems to be taking over in our national political climate. We demand full and final answers from our leaders, but we demand them in catchy sound-bites. In response we get slogans instead of policies, and leaders who are trying to govern by living up to those slogans.

Don’t we want the leaders of our nation to be people of nuance? People who change their mind when they receive new information and evidence, people who understand complexity and varying perspectives? People who grow and develop in their thinking and practice?

When our national political debate is reduced to un-nuanced, simplistic slogans, I think we all suffer. I am reminded of a quote from my favourite fictional politician,  given in the context of a political debate where people are looking for a “ten word answer” which can form the headline or sound-bite for the next news cycle.

“Every once in a while, every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many un-nuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words.”

President Josiah Bartlet, “Game On,” The West Wing

Photo by Marcia Reed NBC, via The West Wing Continuity Guide (Unofficial)
Photo by Marcia Reed, NBC, via The West Wing Continuity Guide (Unofficial)

What do you think? How can we make room for nuance, whether on social media or in political discourse?

9 thoughts on “No Room for Nuance

  1. As President Bartlett continues, “What next? What are the next ten words, twenty words,…” We have to be able to think further and deeper than the first 10 words, which must mean being willing to listen to others more carefully. If I stop listening after their first 10 words because I think I know what they are going to say how can I ever hear if they have thought further and if they have developed a more nuanced thought?


  2. Bill Gates once said ’emails are for organizing meetings not having meetings’. I think he was acknowledging what you are struggling with about the limitations of blogging. Theres’s no room to clarify and respond immediately to misunderstandings. Attitudes and emotions have limited expression. In a work context as soon as its more than communication of a simple fact/time and some issue begins to emerge I immediately pick up the phone to have a conversation. its the only way. As we blog tweet email and facebook lets not ever forget to be in true community and talk face to face in deep and meaningful ways. Maybe we should develop a new addition to social media etiquette where as soon as we find ouselves needing to clarify something or offended in some way we pick up the phone or chat face to face and keep true and keep true community and connections alive.


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