The Dark Side - Is It Really Necessary?

I love art, especially hand drawn works. I don’t draw (although I have been accused of drawling often enough). Two things seem very important in sketch art: what is there and what contrasts with what is there.

Original art - Vanessa Boynton

The use of shadow, contrast and ‘white space’ serve to catch my eye and draw a needed focus to the rest of the work. Without shadow and contrast – the main image and focus is impossible to see. The darkness and the light are necessary. Now allow me to think out loud for a moment.

I’ve heard many people wax philosophical about the role of shadow, darkness (aka evil) in our lives. It is sometimes casually mentioned, “Well, if it wasn’t for the bad – we wouldn’t appreciate the good.” While there is some truth to this in art and artistry, I believe I will take exception with any universal application of that slogan - at least today.

Poetically speaking it may be true that struggling in the dark, searching for a light switch, may lead us to feel relieved when we flip on the light (heck! I certainly don’t want to trip over my dog in the night. He might bite), it is not then necessary for me to have that darkness to appreciate the convenience of light. I don’t have to have wet to enjoy dry, or black to like white, or loud to love quiet. However, let’s assume for a moment that these life contrasts are necessary – it still doesn’t prove we need evil. Speaking of evil, let talk about parenting (funny? Yes?)

If you grow up as a child with loving, attentive and kind parents – do you require bad parents to recognize this? I don’t think so. You just live and thrive within the goodness of your “Leave It to Beaver” household. There doesn’t have to be an abusive, molesting father in the world in order for us to benefit from and enjoy the tenderness of a loving parent. No. There seems to be a point at which the contrasting experiences of our living cease to be variants of natural conditions and become something qualitatively different.

I think my point is that there is a real, not just theoretical distinction between artistic or life reference contrast and the real ‘darkside’ of our life. There are bad, severely misshaped realities (read people) in our world. We should work to change that and under no circumstances should we justify their existence with some artistic or poetic analogy.

Does this make sense to you? Is there a line, however difficult to draw consistently, that separates acceptable differences from just plain wrong?

Note: strange thought just now – I believe both Hitler and Jesus would agree with the above. That’s scary.


  1. Although I understand your general position, I must disagree with your ultimate conclusion. For example, when you share the idea of growing up in a loving household as evidence that you don't need to have also experienced a terrible household/parents, I find myself disagreeing to a point. I did grow up in a "Leave it to Beaver" household environment, loving parents, a good brother, etc. But my exposure to alternate parenting techniques (and flaws) did not have to come from my own parents. Instead, I watched friends and others struggle with their families. With addictions I could not fathom. With rebellion and early forays into sex and drugs to escape the challenges of their homes. I saw them seek out my home and friendship as a safe haven from the storms in their lives, even coming to call my parents "Mom" and "Dad" if the friendship grew that deep. With every 'adoption' my family saw, I felt a sense of honor to have this around me as my foundation.

    In a similar fashion, I see the need for discipline and contrast in developing youth. I am surrounded in my work by young folks who, at times, have never had to feel the struggle or build the true sense of deep appreciation for all they have around them. Their safety nets are too many. Their certainty of their next meal too given. Their access to wealth and advantage too easy. And, since they haven't had to struggle at all, they judge those who are not like them "why doesn't he just" and apply their very skewed standards on others. I don't believe the young should be 'thrown' to the proverbial 'wolves', but I do believe that their creation of a strong sense of meaning and value and appreciation can be undermined by too much support, too many safety nets, too much cushioning when they fall. That which comes too easy is never as appreciated as that which takes effort and attention to achieve. I would rather scrape and save my pennies to make a purchase I long for than to receive it outright at the moment of first delight. For that struggle and process allows me to build a narrative and meaning around it, to ensure I truly desire it, to give it value far beyond the dollars it costs to make it mine. Gifts have their place, but rewards that are earned give us so much more.

    In more spiritually oriented perspectives, I'd like to believe that the very contrast of humanities flaws to the perfection of God are what spark the wonder in faith. When humanity is too much, God is more. When the earthly struggles dig in deep, the spiritual can set us free. It is the peaks and valleys that enhance the journey. Even the wind gets it power from movement through the changing landscapes moreso than open fields.

    One of my favorite books makes the analogy between a hiking experience and life experiences. It is the sides of the mountain where things grow and thrive.

    1. cc - thank you for your comment. i think we are more in agreement than not. in my thinking "out loud" i may not have been very clear - i ramble in writing sometimes. what i meant to say, ultimately, is that i do not think we should be accepting of the malformations of our humanity as a necessary contrast - we don't have to have them. if tomorrow we awoke to a world empty of drug addiction, would it be a better world? yes. would we miss addiction? probably not. if murder and abuse were non existent, would healing and nurturing be any less good? no.

      while i do agree that we often learn to appreciate some things by experiencing their contrast - we do not do ourselves or others any justice by accepting their existence.

      i am a recovering addict. my recovery is a gift and because of it i have had some of the greatest blessings and spiritual moments of my life. however, i would never wish addiction on anyone. never.

      the bad in our world may be an occasion for us to learn more about ourselves, God and faith - BUT we should work diligently and passionately to remove these elements of life - not condone them as 'just the way it is.'

      i'd really like to know more about one of your favorite books... would you share the title with me?

      again, thanks for the comment and the opportunity that it provides for me to continue thinking about this.

      p.s. don't you just love Vanessa Boynton's jesters?

  2. I am nearly certain you have read my favorite book before. It seems like something that would be on your shelves. :) It's a classic philosophy text from the 70's, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. His analogies to the elevation and perspectives of the mind have always been quite powerful for me. I believe this is the only book I have ever read over 15 times.

  3. Please remind me to share with you the article in the March 2012 issue of Wired magazine. It adds a whole new layer to this discussion. Unfortunately, they delay online access for a month to protect subscribers. :) I'll share a copy in person when we next meet.


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