Is your thinking ‘black or white’? Should it be shades of green?

I was recently watching a BBC current affairs programme during which Jeremy Paxman, a somewhat cantankerous British journalist, hosted a healthy, challenging debate about the English Lake District National Park.

This debate was of particular interest to me. The Lake District is a place of significant spiritual meaning to me. From an early age, I’ve spent many days walking it’s fells and, when old enough, sampling it’s delicious beers. Many of my happiest memories were laid down with friends, my partner, my children and occasionally alone, on the top of its highest peaks and in its cosy public houses. With clear blue skies, fresh air and stunning scenery, there is no better place for reflection and renewal.

I once had the privilege of observing the mighty Golden Eagle soaring above the cliffs of the remote Longsleddale Valley. I’ve walked amongst many varieties of bird, insect and mammal and included in the last category is, of course, the ubiquitous sheep. Unknown to them, the sheep were the centre of this heated debate.

The National Trust, owners of the Lake District National Park, have applied for World Heritage status for the park. They want it to be recognised internationally alongside sites such as Stone Henge and the Taj Mahal. The basis of this application is the Lake District’s outstanding natural beauty.

The challenge to this goal came from a chap who was arguing that there was nothing at all ‘natural’ about the Lake District. He argued that the whole region has been farmed to ‘within an inch of its life’ for centuries and is now nothing more than one big sheep farm. He lamented the cutting down of the forests that would once have blanketed the area (and most of Britain) and the manicured ‘lawns’ created by the incessant grazing of the sheep. He even had a go at the poor sheep given they are essentially man-made decedents of some long-lost breed of wild animal.

This debate reminded me of the post I wrote a while ago about reframing perspectives. My post discussed this very subject; whether the English countryside, including the Lake District, could justifiably be labelled as ‘natural.’

I was reminded that it is very easy to be ‘seduced’ by what we know well, what we hold dear and what has become significantly meaningful to us. This seduction can lead to right and wrong, black and white thinking. This is a dangerous place to go. All conflict, whether petty or of lethal consequences, is premised on two people or two ‘sides’ believing they are right and the other is wrong.

So often, neither is right or wrong. There are simply alternative perspectives. The Lake District is, for me, a place of outstanding beauty and significantly meaningful. However, I do recognise the man-made aspects of what is essentially an industrial-scale collection of small-holdings that has significantly altered the natural landscape. I could very easily have taken a hard line in this debate and argued the case for World Heritage status. However, despite my emotional attachment, I found myself coming down on the ‘other side’. I’m not sure that sheep farming is what the World Heritage movement was founded to promote or protect. Sorry Mrs Sheep.

Seeing both sides and exploring alternative perspectives, is an extremely useful skill to develop. The next time you find yourself taking a ‘principled stand’ take a few minutes to explore alternative perspectives. Argue for these alternatives and see how your thinking and opinions flex. Very few things are right or wrong, black or white. Embrace the shades of grey. Or in the case of the English Lake District, the shades of green.

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