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shades of grey

Shades of Grey

We tend to be rather black and white with our thinking, in the western world. Did you know that the Chinese outlook is different – with no clear division, but rather a continuum of shades of grey?

We assess people, and things as either good or bad. After some consideration, we rate it as a good movie, or a bad movie. A good holiday or a bad holiday. A good person, or a bad person. We create pigeon holes. The Christian ethos has a strong good and evil theme, and is probably responsible in part, for this polarised kind of thinking.

I read a short description of a book called Thick Face, Black Heart: The Asian Path to Thriving, Winning, and Succeeding, written by Chin-Ning Chu. It sounds quite controversial, as the nutshell description of the book was “Reclaim the killer instinct as a natural part of who you are”. Tom Butler-Bowdon also writes of the book – “You will learn that by adapting and adopting a form of non-destructive ruthlessness, you will gain the freedom necessary to achieve effective execution of your life’s tasks.”  It was in this book description, that the Chinese outlook of shades of grey was mentioned. I’ve been pondering this for a few days….


Shades of Grey, rather than Black and White.

Imagine the difference it makes, to appraise people and things as a particular shade of grey, rather than white or black. This concept blows my mind really. And it complicates things! However I feel there is truth here. And in fact, this concept DOES fit with the Christian ethos – that none of us are perfect! We all choose our morality levels, for all kinds of reasons.

Why am I writing about this?

I see an enormous impact of this “shades of grey” thinking on our relationships, our investing, our money management and our money mindset. It reminds me of some great advice I got from someone once, which was “Believe, then verify”. In other words, believe that what you’re told is the truth, but also check it out and get your own evidence of that truth – instead of relying on blind trust.



The people we like and love all have their degrees of “badness”. None are perfect. If we put them on pedestals we will be constantly disappointed, as they will ALL fall off, and our sense of belonging in the world will be poverty-stricken, as we’ll have very few meaningful connections.

Instead, if observe their “badness” (the bits we can see – for there will be a lot that we can’t see) and categorise it into whatever shade of grey we feel is correct, then our decision is whether we can accept that, and co-exist with it. We certainly cannot change it for them!



All investment opportunities need to be evaluated too. If we continue with the notion of labelling them as good or bad, I think we’ll miss some great outcomes, and be more likely to experience some bad outcomes. If we take a “shades of grey” approach, then we’ll look more closely at the badness – because we’ll assume it’s always there. This is what the actual risks of losing money are, by getting into this investment, compared to the likelihood of making money.

This week I listened in to a webinar presentation about investing in gold. The presenter was from a company that makes a market for trading in gold, so of course he was talking about all the good reasons to invest in gold. It sounds like a great idea to own some gold doesn’t it? He mentioned that it is a good defensive asset, and demand appears to be rising, which pushes the price up. Much better than holding cash or bonds at the moment, whose yields are at all time lows.

So it all sounded very “good” and one could easily put this in the white box labelled “good”. However, if I assume some “badness” and look for the shades of grey, I can see them: No income is generated, and the value could drop. Also – if I have my money in gold, there is a possible opportunity loss, because it could be making better returns elsewhere. So there’s the greyness – the badness. My next choice is what to do about that. Can I live with that level of greyness?


Money Management

A phrase I hear all the time is “I’m not good with money”. Which means – I’m bad with money. When someone believes this about themselves it gives them permission to be financially disorganised, pay bills late, run out of money, overspend, get into consumer debt, and not consider building wealth.

Imagine the difference that person would experience if they applied “shades of grey” thinking to their money management. Here, they could say “I’m fairly ok with money – not perfect but doing ok.” It’s pretty easy to see that they’d lift their game, probably get a bit more organised so that cash flow was steady, and they’d be a bit more careful about where to spend their dollars.


Money Mindset

There are two types of people – those who think having lots of money is good, and those who thing having lots of money is bad. Did you believe that? I guess there are people who would fit into these two categories, but what about all the shades in between no money and loads of money?

If we are in the good or bad camp about having lots of money – that will dictate what we do, and can seriously demotivate us too. What if we consider taking a shade of grey stance, and work out for ourselves what kind of financial position we can live with, and want to live with. What kind of lifestyle do we want and need to be content, and how much generosity do we want to apply, to satisfy our own moral code?

As you will see from these examples, thinking in shades of grey requires actually more thinking. It is easier to label things as black or white, good or bad, then act accordingly.  Why not run a little experiment?  Apply some shades of grey thinking for the next few days. This means noticing when you label things as good or bad, right or wrong etc, and being prepared to park that notion, and replace it with a shade assessment.

I’d love to hear how you go!  Please share your experience by commenting below. I think we could all benefit from having a go at this!

Wishing you fabulous life and money success,


6 thoughts on “Shades of Grey

  1. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on individuals of a group. After reading your email, I realise I did this in grey, greyer and greyest terms and did acknowledge there were no blacks. Your concept allows for hues of grey from almost white to almost black and everything in-between. I’ll find it a useful concept to use as I plan an overseas holiday itinerary – and the financial costs involved. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your comment Pamela! How interesting that you can retrofit it to what you did intuitively (got any Chinese influences?!). Yes, it will be useful to see how it applies to all kinds of things – including holiday itineraries! Best wishes for an interesting trip – with lots of shades of very light grey!!!

  2. Very interesting post! And very true about the Chinese thinking in terms of grey. Just watch a movie made by Chinese for Chinese (we rented a few of these while living in Aus). Not a single movie had what we Westerners term ‘a happy ending’. In fact, I would describe them all as ‘unhappy endings’, probably reinforcing the greyness of life. It is ALWAYS interesting and valuable to look at the world from different perspectives, especially when negotiating or doing business with people from different parts of the world, but I am very glad I have a Western point of view. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Thanks Karen, and very interesting what you say about Chinese movies. Yes – I agree – it’s very powerful when you can understand different points of view, and choose which one you’ll step in to at which time. :)

  3. Really enjoyed this post Glenda!! Had an interesting conversation this morning with a friend who is discouraged that her house is not getting offers in the price range she’s wanting and then that electricity prices are increasing even thou she invested in Solar. She almost hung up on me when I pointed out that the shareholders of the electricity companies were looking for a return on their investment. Okay (essential even from her perspective) to make a profit from her house but not for the shareholders of the electricity companies.

    1. Hey Debra – thanks for your contribution here. Yes definitely some shades of black and white going on there in your story! “Profit for me is good – but profit for you, at my expense is bad.”

      A bit of grey thinking would be – hmmm lower offers than expected, disappointing and a bit greyer than white, but at least we are getting offers; and – hmmmm higher electricity prices than I expected – a bit greyer than white, and it would have been even darker grey if we had got solar attached.

      The polar labelling of black or white, good or bad, certainly affects how we then feel.

      Cheers, Glenda

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