Are you too monochrome?

We will leave Chinese Year of the Dog early next month but before we do, it is interesting to note what has happened so far. It has been a year full of change and, some might say, some fairly spectacular dog scraps in parliament and beyond. No surprise there: one of the characteristics of the Dog is a black and white mentality (as demonstrated by Donald Trump who was born in the Year of the Dog) with its inability to see the greys in between.

So let’s look at the monochrome palette and see what it can reveal. Firstly, there is a question about whether they are actually colours at all. A physicist would say that black is the absence of colour but an artist would declare the opposite. The physicist would go onto explain that sunlight is white light composed of all the colours of the spectrum but chemists would argue that combining the three primary colours: red, blue and yellow, creates black. An optician, on the other hand, would declare that because black absorbs all the colours of the visible spectrum and reflects none of them to the eyes it is not a colour, whereas because white reflects all the colours of the visible light spectrum to the eyes, it is.

What we can conclude is that things may not be as black or white as they seem. Let’s take a look at them both more closely. White has been worn since ancient times by high priests and for important rituals and is worn in weddings to depict purity and perfection.

Like a piece of white paper not yet written upon, white leaves the mind open and free to create. White can be used for protection, to bring peace and comfort, to alleviate emotional shock and despair and for cleansing and the letting go of negative thoughts. But think of a snow-covered field. The stillness and silence may be sublime to start with but it doesn’t take long for ice, isolation and loneliness to set in and for our feet to begin to slip.

Interestingly, white is the symbol of grief in China but, in the West, it is black.

Black helps us to hide, rendering us invisible, making it a favourite of teenagers and city dwellers. Black is mysterious because it cannot be fathomed and so depicts fear and the unknown. Yet in business, it is associated with power, authority, strength, elegance, discipline, formality and intelligence – think black robes and hats for graduates. Black is linked to secret knowledge and magic and wearing black can make people look thinner. Interestingly, however, sports teams that wear black kit are more frequently penalised than those wearing other colours. Black also represents evil (the opposite of live) and too much black can prevent us from growing and changing. Understandably, we are terrified of black holes, those massive and intense areas in space which form the centre of galaxies and feed on and extinguish light.

Language offers some insights into the cultural uses of these two colours. A ‘white’ knight’ indicates someone brave coming to the rescue and a ‘white’ lie’ suggests a lie that is harmless. A ‘white feather’ can have two meanings: in WW1 it was represented cowardice and was sent to a man who had not joined the army, but seeing a white feather nowadays suggests that an angel is nearby. The ‘milk of human kindness’ suggests that kindness is white, ‘whiter than white’ suggests complete innocence.

Unfortunately, the word black is more often than not used negatively: people are ‘blacklisted’, meaning they are ostracized and avoided; ‘black humour’ is cruel, and the ‘black death’ was the agonising plague that scourged the thirteenth century, among others, and killed a third of the population.

Black and white are not the only colours in a monochrome world, however. Grey lies in between and thereby lies much of its wisdom as seeing the greys in the world means knowing that life can rarely be split into opposites. Grey is practical, middle-of the road, solid and allows for compassion and forgiveness and as much time as is necessary for whatever you are doing. On one hand it is associated with self-reliance, self-control and as a shield against outside influence, but on the other it can also suggest depression and a lost sense of direction with its heavy feeling of clouds, fog and smoke. As neither black or white, it can also be perceived as evasive, noncommittal and lonely and may denote self-criticism.

So, as we come to the end of the Year of the Dog, let us prepare to receive the arrival of new colours. Next month we will look at what the oncoming Year of the Pig will have to tell us. Meanwhile, enjoy the continuing of the monochrome palette this month. Just don’t forget to add some other colours so that you don’t become too polarised.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2019 and a very enjoyable January.

Love Laurelle