Sunday, May 21, 2017

Black or White, and how this type of thinking hurts us.

I have come to the conclusion that we live in a culture that is largely "either/or."  Very much black or white in their thinking.  We like labels.  They make us feel better.  Good or bad.  Easy or hard.  Right or wrong.  Beautiful or ugly.  Happy or sad.  Love or hate.  All or nothing. 

Why do we like them?  Because labels make things easier.  Less stressful.  Labels let us off the hook.  Requiring less thinking, less stretching, and less challenging of the emotional self.  Labels are safe.  They make life less scary.

They also detract and take away from life, in a huge way.

Labels make life far less rich.  Living life in a "black or white,"  "this or that" way generally serves in removing a significant amount of lifes potential, possibility, color, and beauty.  Living with limited thinking (aka, narrowing things to "this or that" potential) serves in stunting ones personal and emotional growth because in actuality, very few things in life are black and white.  Most, in reality, have multiple layers, possibilities, viewpoints and options. 

This is especially true when it comes to social connections and relationships (romantic or platonic) which are almost never black or white but instead, filled with complexity, layers and nuance.
So in choosing to narrow things to "black or white," this is not only limiting and narrow but actually a grossly inaccurate way of perceiving life.

Allow me to explain how this causes us problems, making life less far less colorful and rich.

Here are a few real-life examples of how we tend towards thinking in black or white with regards to our connections with others, and how this shortchanges rather than enriches us.

The first example falls within the wide ranging topic of love.  So often, we feel as though the love we have to offer is limited in its possible quantity.  That we have to choose only one person to love.  And that in loving this person, as a result, we cannot possibly love "that other" person. 

Despite societal messages, this is false.  The amount of available love, affection and caring within us as human beings is limitless.  I imagine most of you reading this would agree that you have more then one friend for whom you feel affection, deep caring, possibly even love.  I would also imagine you might have more than one sibling for whom you feel love.  You love both of your parents, yes?  If you have more than one child, you unquestionably love them all.  So, why then is love supposedly limited when it comes to zeroing in on the romantic kind?

I dont buy it.  Saying this is impossible is silly and illogical.  We can absolutely experience feelings of deep caring, affection, concern and love for more then one person.  Nor do these feelings have to take away from or compromise our feelings for others.  When you love one friend, do you love the others less? 

My second example segues off the first.  With regards to the topic of marriage or really, any commited romantic relationship.  We tend toward following and thinking in the narrow, rigid, script our culture has given us which is that when together with someone, not only must you be "with" only them physically but additionally, you must forsake all possible close emotional connections with anyone of the opposite gender.  Exes, friends, doesnt matter.  They all have to be axed and/or avoided, all based on the assumption and worry that they "threaten" the relationship.

Instead, your romantic partner must be your only close connection of the opposite gender.  They should be your sole sex partner, your best friend, therapist, financial advisor, co-parent, the list goes on.  This is flawed for a couple of reasons.  The first and most obvious is that no one can possibly fulfill all of those roles fully, all of the time.  Its simply too much for one human to live up to.  This is a delusional expectation.  Its impossible to have all of our needs met through one person and actually, its too much to ask. 

Secondly, thinking your relationship is "safer" because its more constrained is a false delusion.  Its a hopeful one, but a false one.  In fact, I would argue that the more constrained and stunted something is or feels, the more stifled it will eventually come to be.  This has been seen time and time again in psychology.  But thats a separate topic.

Living ones life with this line of "all or nothing" thinking merely serves at taking away from so many beautiful aspects of life.  I have a handful of close male friends.  Some are single, while a number are in commited relationships with others.  Our friendships adds color, depth and value to not only my life, but I like to think to theirs as well.  (Otherwise, I dont imagine they would show interest in the friendship with me).  These men love their partners.  They can also feel emotions of caring, affection and liking for me (and other female friends) at the same time.  They confide in and are close with their partner, as they very well should be.  We also share a degree of closeness in our friendship as well.

Neither takes away from nor threatens the other.  In fact, different connections add vivid color, richness and learning to our lives in varying ways.  We stand at gaining and learning things from relationships/friendships/connections that we do not get from others, and so on. 

Different people will offer and teach us different things.  Different connections add different shades of color to our lives. 

Neither is better than the other.  One does not invalidate the other. 

My final example of where black and white thinking can be a problem is within friendship and platonic relationships.  Think of how often you hear someone say of a person to whom they have been close for years, "yeah, then they did this shitty thing, so we are done."  Thats it.  Black and white, either/or.  Instead of considering the relationship as a whole picture, we tend towards allowing one or two key current emotions or moments to dictate our conclusion of it.

Yes, absolutely, sometimes things happen and its a deal breaker.  When seeing a genuine glimpse into someones character and we realize that sadly, they are not who we may have thought.  This may require ending an unhealthy friendship or relationship.  And that can be both a good and necessary thing for our lives. 

Other times though (in fact many times) we end or change our minds about otherwise wonderful relationships much too hastily.  Relationships that likely add quite a bit of value to our life, because of something short sighted and silly.  We make it black or white because its easier when actually, it isnt even close to being so.

As in the resonating and emotional example of "A Little Life", one of the best books I have read in years, someone can be a fantastic friend overall, a person of genuine great character, but make a major mistake which results in hurting someone they love.  Relationships are complex things.  Its important to look at the big picture.  To really examine all the degrees and layers, instead of making choices based on fear or because its "easier."

Its important to note that this can of course happen in the opposite way as well.  Sometimes we hold on to relationships that in actuality are not good ones (or, while maybe not particular "bad," but they do not particular serve us in helping us grow or become better people).  Often, we cling to little bits and pieces of evidence we receive that allow us in deluding ourselves otherwise.  That yes, they are a good person or partner because today they did something nice, or because they were fun to be with this time around, or because they complimented us.  The list goes on.  When in fact, with regards to the big picture, in actuality they arent that great of a fit for us personally.

Friendship, as with my examples of love in general and more specifically with romantic relationships, are almost never black and white but instead, wrought with contradiction, nuances and complexity. 

In conclusion

There are of course, numerous other examples in life of black and white thinking.  Both with regards to relationships (platonic, familial or romantic), as well as separate from the topic of human relationships.  What I provided above were just a few small examples to get one thinking about how "black and white" thinking is a hindrance to growth, as opposed to being helpful.  Black and white thinking is fear based thinking.  Its lazier thinking.

The majority of the time, things are not black or white.  (Yes.  Some things are black and white.  But I am speaking of the majority of things in life, which are not so easily labeled).  We tend in thinking about things in our life as "either/or."  Good or bad.  This or that.  But actually, this is faulty thinking because relationships, life paths, friendships, and more, are chock full of beautiful potential, loads of layers, nuances, and possibility.  Much of which we probably cannot even see, as we have become so accostomed to labeling and narrowing things.

Life can be far richer, more exciting, happier, satisfying and rewarding, when instead of limiting and closing things, we open them.  This requires bravery.  Often times, it means stretching ourselves emotionally.  Making ourselves a bit uncomfortable.  Navigating new or choppy waters.  Doing things that might scare us.

But I can tell you, it will make for a far more enriched life.

An interesting article from Huffington Post on the topic of Black and White thinking...

Another article on how black and white thinking limits us, increases depression and makes us less adaptive.

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