I have said it, written it, responded with it many times…”you are missing the point because you are stuck in binary thinking.” There are many reasons for binary thinking, and not all binary is wrong. However, those who have a rigid black and white view of everything very often miss the point of a conversation because life tends to find her roots in shades, mystery and truth.
My daughter Emma, wrote a post recently titled Binary that caught my eye. As I read her words I thought, “Well done Emma, I like what you are saying and the voice you are writing in.” So enjoy reading through Emma’s thoughts on Binary. You can keep up with her on http://emmaelizabethwright.wordpress.com
What is a word that describes the middle ground between black and white? What about a word that describes the middle ground between big and small? To me, at least, the answers were obvious. Black and medium. When I thought about other opposites though like relaxed and anxious or love and hate, I couldn’t find an indisputable answer. There are many shades of love, and many shades of hate, and no one clear place to land in the middle.
I like to think of myself as this incredibly complex person, who hovers over the median lines of issues and debates. I like to think that politically “I’m a moderate,” and that I don’t have brown hair, but I also don’t have red hair, so it must be somewhere in the middle. (Which I call auburn). I like to believe that I am a sweet person, but that I am also intimidating and commanding to appropriately suit the situation. Yet, I like to think of Mother Theresa as a good person. I also like to think of her as a Christian. I like to think of her as a woman. For some reason, I do not like to think of her as not a perfect representation of a pair of opposites. In my mind she isn’t a good person who could potentially struggle with something, she is strictly good. Its not just her that I do this for, though. For example, Ted Bundy is evil. My dentist is nice. The lady behind me in line is impatient, and the barista at Starbucks is bubbly. I polarize people’s traits and then define them, which made me realize that perhaps people do the same to me. I got quite afraid of the reality that I am I able to be so easily boiled down to concrete, binary elements.
Thinking in binary terms can cause you to manipulate, incorrectly define, and limit yourselves and others. It then provides the increasing opportunity to fail and the inability to meet expectations. It is obviously detrimental to ourselves to think like this, but it also can cause damage to those who care about us who just cant jump through our hoops.
It frustrates me when people think that I am so easy to figure out. I’m not. I am not black, and I am not white. I am not simple and easy to define. Trying to explain me will make you miss out on getting to know the actual me. By limiting me to your schema and stereotypes, you chose the me that you get to know, and you miss out on who I really am. People don’t crave to be defined, I believe that they seek to be understood. I don’t want someone who can tell me that I tend to overreact, I want someone who will look at my overreaction and understand certain things make me short tempered. When you think of me in binary terms, you can also manipulate me into something I’m not. You can make me be better than I actually am, or much worse. Either way I am set up for failure. If it is decided I am perfect, then the disappointments will pour in because I’m flawed and I will undeniably fail you. If you think negatively towards me, then I could fall into a perpetual cycle of trying to please and prove myself when it is already settled in your mind that I am concretely bad.
This happens to me, but I engage in the cycle and I do it to others. He is a good guy, or a bad guy. I like them, or I don’t. When I have made my decision, it is made and it would take much earth shaking to make me change. I put people into the perpetual pleasing cycles by having higher than possible standards. By trying to define other human’s actions, I have limited them as people, and made the environmental context the sole reflection of their personality. I have also decided to only see the good in people and ignored the pain and hurt that they cause in my life. I am beginning to see the beauty in the gray, though. I am beginning to see the beauty in saying things like, he is unkind when he needs to feel guarded, instead of just labeling him mean. I am beginning to see the beauty in the opportunity the middle ground gives me when I am getting to know people.
I challenge you to also lessen how much you think in binary terms.