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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sometimes black and white (either/or) thinking is good. Avoiding it can be itself black and white thinking.

I was having a discussion with a friend one time.  We were discussing an aspect of people with addictive personalities.  Really, it can apply to young kids, people with developmental disabilities and people with compulsive behavior or thinkingas well.

What exactly am I talking about?  

Splitting (also called black and white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking) is the failure in a person's thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism used by many people.[1] The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual's actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

When we are little kids, largely out of necessity we are taught to think in black and white.  Some of it due to a lack of ability to comprehend the shades of gray, some of it due to our inability to stay focused enough to listen to a shades of gray messages and some of it for our own protection.
  • Don't touch the oven/stove--you'll get burnt.
  • Fighting is wrong.
  • Guns are dangerous.

As we grow older we learn that the world is not that simple. 
  • You can touch the oven/stove provided you use a potholder or oven gloves
  • Fighting is usually wrong, unless it is to defend yourself. 
  • Guns are acceptable for hunting and for protection, but they need to be in the hands of a responsible adult or older kid being taught gun safety.

As a matter of fact, we are often discouraged from thinking in black and white.  Often times if we don't think/express thoughts in shades of gray, we are labeled as 'narrow-minded'.   Essentially we are talking about moral relativism.

In the discussion with my friend it occurred to me that always thinking in shades of gray is actually a form of black and white thinking.   That is to say, if you are unwilling to ever consider that sometimes life has definitive right/wrong, yes/no, all/nothing conditions, in a way you are thinking in black and white or the extreme.  In other words, thinking there are no absolutes is a form of absolute thinking.  

If you truly want to think or live your life in shades of gray, you have to include all possibilities on the spectrum.  After all, the gray color spectrum includes white on one end and black on the other.  

The takeaway is this: some aspects about life and humanity do change with the times (shades of gray) such as theories on parenting,  while others are timeless and definitive such as murder is wrong.   In short, it is black and white or narrow-minded to think everything is up in the air.

Just my thoughts for the day...

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