This week in one of my classes, a student asked me what the word nuance meant. We were talking about how to conduct data analysis as part of research. I walked them through the process of coding qualitative data to find themes within open-ended survey response questions.
To do this, I told them them the story of writing the Negotiation chapter for the Voices for Equality book. Early in the process of trying to understand the data, my colleagues and I realized that we were coding the data too simply. We were looking for easy answers when we needed to be understanding the complexity of how Mormons understand gender. We assumed it would be a straightforward task and it wasn’t. Shortly before the deadline for the book chapter, we had to go back and re-code the data. It was frustrating, but it lead to new and better conclusions and a much deeper understanding of the topic.
I told my student that finding nuance was about resisting easy answers and seeking to understand the complexity of problems. Good research seeks for and finds nuance. We, as humans, crave easy answers. Uncertainty is psychologically uncomfortable for many of us. Our desire to resolve our uncertainty motivates us to find solid resolutions. Decades of psychology research supports that idea.
Right now, as I am thinking about nuance, I am thinking about how we seek to find easy answers to God and religion and how many sought easy answers in the slogan “Make America Great Again.” I am also aware of how all of us are pointing to groups of people and identifying them as the obvious source of our problems. I see plenty of evidence of this online and in my conversations with others. I feel this desire to blame other people and make them carry the whole weight of social issues, the full impact of racism and homophobia and xenophobia. But none of that seeks to understand the complexity of the problems before us. We must resist easy answers.