Building Blocks & Primary Colors Aren’t The Goal

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash

We are called as leaders, as people, as the species at the top of the food chain, to ask bigger questions. We’re called to move beyond the basic instinct of survival and self-preservation into something larger than ourselves. We’re called to recognize that discomfort and fear aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because we know powerful growth and learning can come from both. The old Charlie Brown cartoon said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how much I have to learn.” Growth and learning have no conclusion — just better questions.

I hate to break it to you, but our rise to leadership (most specifically of ourselves) isn’t about life getting easier. As a child,we learn simple shapes and simple colors — not as conclusions, but as building blocks. Similarly, as adults our understandings of faith, culture, or humanity aren’t conclusions either — but building blocks. We don’t teach primary colors in art school so that artists will limit themselves and paint only with red, blue and yellow, but because they can be combined in near endless combinations to create millions of colors. As people, we are called to the same curiosities and creations with one another. Your human color mixes with my human color, and together we form a new color that can’t exist without us. The more we blend, the more we explore, the more we paint, the more we understand that our human interactions aren’t about conclusions; it’s not about settling on answers of right and wrong. Rather, it’s about the ability to use our experiences to ask bigger and better questions. When mixing colors, it isn’t about what you take away that forms something new — it’s about what you add.

I have felt for a long time that God never wanted us to experience her and to honor her in only one way. If she did, then the only music she would have created would be old, traditional, droning on hymns. Modern music such Amy Grant, Yosef Islam, or Lauren Diagle wouldn’t please God at all! And yet I am confident it does, because God loves diversity. Hell, how could the creator of all living things, countless types of trees, animals, insects, plants, music, colors, mountains, seas, birds, eye color, smiles, hair, heights — how could someone like that not love diversity? He allowed language to develop differently across the globe; he allowed Baskin & Robbins to create 31 flavors of ice cream. The goal has never been to have singular experiences, or to somehow conclude what is most superior or “best.”  We are meant to combine: to combine your hue of life with mine, Tony Bennett’s style with Pink’s, classical painting techniques with the sculptural magic of Michelangelo to create the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel…

And on and on it goes.

When can we realize that we are asking the wrong question by asking questions that lead to simplicity? The answers don’t lie in simplicity! The goal isn’t to reduce our problems to sound bite solutions and bumper sticker phrases. Those are the primary colors and simple building blocks of children. We’re way beyond that, smarter than that, more curious than that. We don’t want to build block houses, we want to build skyscrapers. We don’t practice piano to play just chopsticks, we practice to play our favorite songs — Christmas music our friends and family can sing along with, and Chopin, and Billy Joel’s Piano Man! If we, in every other aspect of our life, learn, grow, and get better, why would we NOT want to do that with people and culture and society and ideas and race and institutions?

Sometimes the best song in the world at the moment you need it is a solo voice singing against an acoustic guitar. The music is simple, so the profundity and emotion of the words can get through. And other times you just love the fullness and magic and sound that three musicians like U2 can create, pumping up a physiological emotion as much as a spiritual one. Sometimes we want the heart-pumping bass that gets us moving on the dance floor. And sometimes we want the quiet stillness of the breeze carrying the sounds of distant children’s laughter and the chirps of a song bird high above us in a tree. We want and need all of it. Not all at once — but when we are relishing one, that doesn’t make the others worthless or wrong. It doesn’t negate them in any way.

We get all that, accept all that, embrace ALL OF THAT — and yet, when it comes to humanity, we too often fail a collective failure. We try to say that some of us are better than others of us, that my security is more important than your security, that fairness is a word that I can use when I’m not getting what I need — but not one that you can use if getting what you need somehow requires me to be different or give something up.

Leadership calls us to be willing to ask more complex questions, see more complex solutions, and to recognize answers are not simple. There often is no “right”; there is simply learning that leads to better questions and a deeper understanding.