The meaning of color

Published 6:35 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I have become acutely aware of color over the last four months.

It seems that almost everyone has a favorite color. Mine happens to be green. Green stands for durability and reliability; think John Deere. It stands for safety and optimism; a green light means go.

It invokes feelings of nature, calm and spring, my favorite time of year.

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Mary Lou has always loved blue. People think of honor, professionalism, trust and loyalty when they think of blue. It is the color of peace and reliability. All those traits seem to fit her just fine.

Colors really have no meaning. Our culture has assigned meanings to these colors over time. Sometimes we ourselves have assigned meanings based on our individual backgrounds. Occasionally a color has taken a meaning based on how our own body reacts. Color also can be the result of things we see in nature. For instance, red means warmth because it is the color of fire, but it can also mean anger because it the color our face turns when it flushes during anger.

My grandfather hated the color purple and for 75 years my grandmother never wore a purple dress. I am sure his distaste had nothing to do with the fact it is known for power and royalty. It symbolizes royalty because for hundreds of years it was the most expensive dye to make, so only the rich wore it. Now the fact it was expensive could be a reason for my grandfather to steer away from purple, knowing him.

Like many things, colors have different meanings in different cultures.

In America, we traditionally have associated black with death, but in China white is the color of death.

Colors have become much more important in our lives than just our personal preferences. They are statements about who we think we are and are used to cause certain actions by others. My office is brown with green plants. My outer office is bright red. Brown and green are used to get people to relax. Red is a call to action. Am I really that calculating? No, just an accident but at some level I do think it works.

It is no accident that you see a lot of reds and yellows in fast food restaurants around the country. Red means fast and yellow means hunger.

If you want calm, think of using the cool colors of blue, green, turquoise and silver. Warm colors bring to mind excitement with their red, pink, yellow, gold and orange. Can’t make up your mind?

Then blend the cool and warm colors together, which will get you purple, lavender, green and turquoise. Finally, if you just don’t care, than go for the neutral feelings brought about by brown, beige, ivory, gray, black and white.

As for favorites, well Americans call purple and blue their favorite colors. They are followed closely by red and green. In descending order they go pink, black, yellow, orange and lastly gold.

Men strongly favor blue, followed by green and black. In a confirmation of the saying, “Real Men Don’t Wear Pink”; it is the least favorite color of the male population. In an interesting use of this color, the University of Iowa painted the opposing team’s locker rooms a Pepto-Bismol pink.

Women also favor blue the most, followed by green, turquoise, purple, pink and lavender. Their least favorite colors are orange, brown and gray. Of course, women have a basic talent of mixing and matching colors in a pleasant way. Men seem to be largely devoid of this talent.

We associate colors with memories in our distant past. Do you remember taking a brand new box of Crayola crayons to school on the first day? Can you remember the smell after opening the box for the first time?

Colors can often cause stressful situations. “Which dress do you want me to wear tonight?” is a loaded question with a secret answer you are supposed to gather from the look on your wife’s face.

Even worse is “Which color shoes should I wear?” Seems to me the answer is the most comfortable pair.

By far the most challenging color selections of my life involve the selection of carpet when we renovated our sanctuary a few years back and the painting of our church as part of our current addition and renovation program.

We thought we were avoiding programs when we hired a professional church-color expert the first time. Frankly, I didn’t know such a thing existed, but she picked out the red from the stained glass and then told us all about what red mean. The immediate pushback from half the group was they wanted green. It would go better in weddings.

The painting of the church is much more emotional because we have been the “yellow brick church on the corner” for more than 60 years.

Subsequent additions now meant we had four slightly different sets of yellow brick around the building.

“It’s been that way for as long as I can remember” was a common comment. Of course, the church that burned down before it was red brick, and the wooden church before that was painted white.

Once the decision to paint was made, the dreaded color selection was next. Believe me; this is much worse than shoes. I never worried or politicked as hard in my career as I did to build a consensus on what we should do.

Then I figured it out. I got a committee of women to do it, along with a designer that goes to another church. With more than 10 million colors out there, it was way beyond the 64 crayons in my big box.

Figure it out they did. It’s not finished, but looks beautiful. We are getting to see first hand the effects and feelings of colors that I have mentioned above. It looks larger, more contemporary and yet stately. It changes during the course of the day as the sun moves toward the west. It says to the community, we are a growing church and we are here to stay.

It wasn’t unanimous and there are still those that say they’ll learn to like it. That’s the way a church should be. A collection of different people united in common purposes who find a way to set examples in the community. This two-year project has been such an example of finding consensus, listening to different viewpoints and maintaining peace in an atmosphere where actually no one is wrong.

The church isn’t the building nor is it the color. The people make up the church. Colors are part of our feelings. Right now, I feel pretty good.