Living in the purple zone

Let’s see. We were talking about fiction and the problem of subjectivity. It’s a problem for me anyway. The moment I hear somebody saying, “It’s all subjective,” I can feel the cholesterol clumping up in my arteries. I hate subjectivity with Schaefferian zeal. I remember an argument I had with my college roommate for hours one Sunday at lunch (we were eating with girls and could have spent the time more profitably). After going around and around forever, I finally figured out that my roommate had his own private definition of “subjective,” one which bore no resemblance to any recognized definition anybody else used.

He’d defined “subjective” subjectively.

So I’m reflexively resistant to all talk of the “S” word.

But that’s a wrong response. (Blame my subjective reaction.)

Look at it this way:

Imagine two colored vertical bars, like the design on the French flag. On one side you’ve got a red bar—all passionate and fiery and subjective. Emotional. Think of Barbra Streisand’s political philosophy.

On the other side you’ve got cool blue. Clinical. Reasoned and proportional. “Just the facts, ma’am.” Systematic.

Personally I’m a lot more comfortable with the blue side. What good did emotions ever do for me?

But like I said, that’s wrong. (My reason tells me so.)

What do you suppose you find in the middle, between the two bars? A wide white no-man’s-land (again like on the French flag)? An impassible barrier, where never the twain shall meet?

No, it’s not like that at all. What you have is a very wide band of purple, graduating from red to blue.

And that purple area is where you and I live. We live in reason and emotion, spirit and body.

Some days we’re closer to the red side. Other days we’re closer to the blue. Some people try to live all the way over on one side or the other (think Sherlock Holmes contrasted with Rosie O’Donnell).

But we all have to live in the purple area. So our communication—our really effective communication—has to be a blend of red and blue, passion and reason.

That’s why stories communicate so well. When God wanted to tell us about Himself, He didn’t dictate a book of Systematic Theology (as I would have advised Him if He’d asked me). He gave us a book full of stories, stories about people’s real lives and how He’s dealt with them.

That’s why a human being in a photograph provides the best overall kind of scale. A concrete post with words “SIX FEET” painted on it might work, but it wouldn’t work as well. Because the story of the waterfall is not just a story of measurements. It’s a story of experience too. The feeling of the spray on your face, the roaring of the water in your ears.

That’s why fiction speaks to people as science and philosophy (essential though they are) never can.

Man is not the measure of all things.

But man is the best measure of some things.

12 thoughts on “Living in the purple zone”

  1. If all is subjective, so are words; and then words don’t mean anything, and there’s no point in talking. The idea ‘all is subjective’ defeats itself.

  2. I love the Schaeffer story about his argument with a college student in his dorm room where the young man kept saying, “Sir, I don’t think we are communicating.” Schaeffer gruffly responded, “Get me some tea.” Surprised, the young man poured Schaeffer his tea. Schaeffer then said, “I think we are communicating.”

  3. You can still experience life through your emotions and instincts and filter them through your own mind without being subjective if you let your mind lead you, not your emotions.

    Are you saying it’s alright to believe proven fiction?

  4. If there’s any legitimate sense in which ‘man is the measure of all things’ (and of course it’s god who’s the measure of all things) it’s only because man was/is created in the image of god. Only because of this is man able to judge things correctly.

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