The Gray Gray Ghost That I Call Home

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

There is a great scene in Cold Mountain where Inman, who is AWOL from the army in The Civil War, is walking through the woods on a horse opposite Bosie, the deputy charged with catching people like Inman. The two are at a gunpoint standoff:

Bosie: Tell you what I got on my side.
Inman: What have you got on your side?
Bosie: The confidence of youth.

Bosie is absolute in his convictions. Inman had done wrong and for that he will die. The truth, of course, is far more complicated. Inman is sick of war. He doesn’t understand it. He does understand there is a pretty nice life waiting for him back at Cold Mountain if he could get back there and get people to leave him alone. Bosie just can’t see it. He either lacks the life experience, or is clouded by some anger issues, or is motivated by some other force. (I mean, yeah, it’s his job, but you know what I mean.)

I think about it whenever I read something that feels absolutist. You know the article. “AND LEMME TELL YA ANOTHER THING. HERE’S THE WAY IT OUGHTA BE OR THIS DANGED INDUSTRY IS GOING STRAIGHT DOWN THE TUBES.” Or your website is going to start on fire. Or you are wronging all of humanity.

The truth, of course, is far more complicated.

Being dogmatic (operating from beliefs you feel are incontrovertibly true) is funny (scary). It reeks of the confidence of youth. There are a million examples, but in recent history I’m sure you’ll remember: “Don’t use tools!”, “Web fonts aren’t worth it”, “Preprocessors make your code bloated”, “Progressive enhancement is the only way to work”, “Responsive web design is slow”, “Mobile web browsers have failed us”, “If your site doesn’t work without JavaScript you should eat dirt.”

Discussions are always worth having. Weighing options is always interesting. Demonstrating what has worked (and what hasn’t) for you is always useful. There are ways to communicate that don’t resort to dogmatism.

What’s tricky is that you have to grow out of it. Or otherwise find a way to relax your convictions. They don’t sell empathy pills. Bosie had one thing right, I suppose:

That’s what they call a conundrum.

Also, he dies.

The “gray” I refer to in the title is the metaphorical mixing of the black and white extremes. (It’s also a sweet Mike Doughty song.) If the extremes have any use, it’s that they frame the conversation. They paint the boundaries that I like to stay away from. I like to live in the gray. Oh, comfortable, reasonable, gray. The gray world in which we consider options and chose things that work for us and ours.