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Old 02-28-2021, 10:03 PM
AVB-AMG's Avatar
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Black and White vs. Shades of Gray

Some people classify and box people into two groups---Good and Evil. That’s it and its that simple. I dare say that those who think like that view the world and all of its issues as “black and white”.

Unfortunately, those people are not alone with that type of thinking in how they perceive the world, formulate their opinions, make decisions, communicate with others, etc. The older I get the m ore I consider myself to be more of a “shades of gray” thinker, seeing even more shades, but also have strongly held beliefs on some important issues.

I believe those two categorizations underlines a fundamental difference in the way people make decisions and communicate with each other, let alone on whether or not we get along. Let’s consider the differences between a black and white (B&W) thinker and a shades of gray (SoG) thinker.

To be clear, I am not confusing the belief in understanding and accepting what our society considers to have been established as fact and are accepted absolutes such as moral and/or ethical issues (e.g. murder, etc.). I am only talking about areas where there actually are valid differing viewpoints and approaches, where some people just choose not to consider them. I think it's entirely possible to be a SoG thinker and have strongly held personal beliefs (moral, ethical, religious and otherwise), which I certainly do and then follow your conscience. IMHO seeking out more information helps people flesh out their beliefs, and to know with greater certainty why they believe what they do. To further complicate things, I think B&W thinkers can have some issues where they see gray and SoG thinkers have a few B&W issues on which they won't budge. For the most part though, I believe that their thinking falls predominantly one way or the other.

I believe that viewing the world in black and white is to live within the contours of extremism. This dogmatic outlook neatly divides the world into right versus wrong, good versus evil, and yes versus no. My perception based on experience is that the B&W thinker often sees one right way to do things, as opposed to the SoG thinker who sees many ways and then thoughtfully chooses one. Many people see the B&W approach as being hateful or judgmental, because of the prevalence of B&W thinkers, whether they are Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, who are not gentle with their views or try to push their beliefs down your throat. It's very frustrating dealing with a rigid B&W thinker who outright dismisses the SoG thinkers other ideas, thoughts, beliefs or ideas. Conflict will occur when the B&W person feels the SoG person is thoughtless or less intelligent or less enlightened or vica versa. The SoG person is offended or irritated that the B&W person is so close-minded as to come to the conclusion that there is only one right option and many times that leads to a stalemate.

B&W thinking is absolute and is dependent upon such words as “always” and ‘never’. Especially in times of crisis, the black and white worldview is looked upon as strength and courage to the casual observer, (i.e. Donald Trump). The problem with B&W thinking is that it usually does battle in a world that is nuanced and gray. Not only does B&W thinking show little appreciation for the world of gray, it has even less patience for the concept of self-reflection. To self-reflect, especially after a decision has been made, could open one to the possibility of being wrong—which defeats the purpose of black and white thinking. A good example is how many English citizens, immediately after the BREXIT vote results were announced, had second thoughts about the ramifications of their vote to leave the EU.

B&W thinking is also flawed because it inherently assumes a static world. It is dependent upon everything and everyone maintaining the role that such thinking has already preordained. There is little regard for the human condition that does not correspond to B&W beliefs, since its thinking is rooted more toward the generic than the situational. Failure becomes harder to confront because one tends to place an inordinate amount of energy being right and fails to recognize the many complexities of the world.

I think that generally speaking, the more information one gathers and the more one allows themselves to listen to and glean ideas from people with different viewpoints, the more gray one will inevitably see. A B&W outlook sometimes goes hand-in-hand with a certain rigidity that prevents people from seeking out more information and listening to others. They're so convinced there's only one right way that they don't see the point of even discussing it. So it can be a self-perpetuating cycle of sticking one’s head in the sand and never progressing forward.

It requires far less courage to be a B&W thinker than it does to live and accept a SoG world. The world of SoG requires that we show up and be present and does not afford us the luxury of putting life on automatic pilot. We may not always agree but should try to be respectful of others opinions and accept that others may never agree with you. What so many people find so very annoying and frustrating to SoG thinkers is that when they are discussing issues with a B&W thinker, the B&W thinks that they have everything figured out and don't have anything more to learn. They either are or quickly become stubbornly intransient in their views, unwilling to listen to, consider and possibly even accept other perspectives, let alone new information and facts.

I am not saying that what I currently believe is always going to be absolutely right or correct. As a SoG thinker I have and will continue to change my opinions and beliefs. For example, 15 years ago I was against gay marriage, believing that civil unions were perfectly sufficient to provide the legal protections for gay couples. Today, I could not care less if gays want to get married and enjoy all the benefits (and turmoil) that marriage has brought to straight couples. There are some issues where we simply have to make the best decision, we can based on the information currently available to us, with the humility to know that we could be wrong, but we are doing the best we can, (i.e. medical vaccinations). I believe that I am making the right choice, but I accept that 20 years from now new information could come out that proves me wrong. Finally, this old adage comes to mind: The more I learn, the more I realize just how much I do not know....

AVB-AMG
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Last edited by AVB-AMG; 02-01-2022 at 10:23 PM.
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Old 01-12-2022, 02:16 PM
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Well said! Very tactfully making a point and I agree with you.

As a longterm marketing guy I couldn't successfully do my job if I saw the way to reach a goal was B&W. I have lived by-- When I stop learning I start dying. B&W thinking is stifling and seems that it must include underling anger based on ones distorted view of the world and their place in it. I made lots of mistakes but one of the benefits of SOG is there is always a backup plan. I heard lots of I told you so from the B&W folks when I failed and it is certainly more risky to be a SOG thinker in a corporate environment but B&W thinking, IMO, eats at one's soul.

I understand the umbrella concept-we make the best decision we can at that time. I have applied that truism most of the time. However, there have been some hideous acts by human beings and some terrible circumstances where individuals have made decisions that defy simple logic, that should be crystal clear to them, where I think that behavior can be better understood and addressed outside of that umbrella. If done so what I see are intention destructive actions that they are better than at that time. When a health crisis decision is based on political affiliation rather than what is best for ones family, that has been the primary pillar of behavior since the beginning of mankind, that's not the best they could do at the time.

As an example, when a prominent figure has been vaccinated and has had the booster but touts the vaccine as ineffective and watches as the death count rises needlessly, whose personal political goals supersede their leadership responsibilities and in some cases their oath of office, I can remove all all empathy from the equation. And without sufficient empathy they have not made the best decision they could make at that time.

I think most know they are not doing the best they can but for person gain or power are willing to accept the terrible consequences of their actions. That is a stringent lack of empathy and should be dealt with accordingly, bluntly but sincerely attempting to not be confrontational. In those circumstances straightforward verifiable facts to the contrary, presented head-on without any glossing over seem to me to have a place. If empathy is still applied it will likely be seen as rhetoric or from someone who thinks they are better than others and incite more anger resulting in further imbedding their position. Most of the time it doesn't matter how one responds to those individuals, nothing will change their minds but it might generate some consideration from those that are on the fence and following the exchange.
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