Binary thinking, or ‘black and white’ thinking is where one sees a topic as good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. Instead, if we think like the colour ‘grey’ which is a mix of black and white, this can allow us to take multiple perspectives into consideration as not everything can be simplified into two things. Thinking grey can improve our mindset and sometimes we don’t realize the negative effects that a simplified approach of thinking has on us.
As humans, we are groomed to instinctively think in this black and white way; it's our natural way of thinking to resort to. This type of thinking is simple, clear, and doesn't require more energy as we are able to simplify topics. Simplifying certain things into black and white is alright, and sometimes even necessary to do! However, categorizing our entire world perspective and basing all of our opinions in this way can lead us to be close-minded and nuanced Plus, having a complex way of thinking can lead to many more opportunities for learning and personal growth.
As teenagers and young adults, we are encouraged to think black and white. As young kids, our brains are not developed enough to ‘think grey’. Established systems, like institutes and schools, further encourage black and white thinking. This can be seen when we look at complex historical events and wars, which are taught to us in this way rather than helping to understand the reasons that would allow a more complex perspective. Even as we get older, we stick to this simplistic, two-side way of thinking. One of the most popular examples of this is superhero movies where there is a clear hero who is ‘good’ and a villain who is ‘bad’. Captain America: Civil War showed viewers perspectives from both sides which encourages us to consider different stances on the same matter. Despite this, the overall notion is still good and evil; black and white. One can argue that what he did was necessary in his view; as his point of overpopulation remains hugely important in our world today. You don’t need to immediately choose a side, but acknowledging the other perspective (whether you agree with it or not) is an incredibly valuable skill and way of thinking. Another huge problem with black or white thinking is our ignorance of the endless possibilities. An example that we can look into, is paper vs plastic. A simple explanation can be that plastic never degenerates. While that is correct, using paper means cutting trees and more carbon emission in shipment due to the paper’s higher mass. Additionally, it uses huge quantities of water in its production. Without an in-depth understanding of the issue, preferring one over the other as ‘environmentally friendly’, is wrong and extremely parochial. The media we consume is also filled with ‘black and white’ thinking. This kind of simplification is often used as clickbait headlines. Media companies take one point, and make the headlines sound like facts, whereas they could actually be opinions.
“Black and white” thinking makes us see things as too simple instead of how they are - extremely complex with different layers! This makes how we think about things damaging and incorrect, as we try to categorize everything into two categories of black and white. We sometimes forget that the world is highly complex with systems and effects that cannot be understood by most. People who think in this rigid way tend to make less progress than others. They come off as ignorant, as they don’t seem to even listen to context that may reshape events. Thinking black or white instead of looking at things from multiple perspectives, damages our perception and discourages us from being open-minded.
So how should we even go about ‘thinking grey’? This sort of thinking is practiced and improved over time as we should challenge other people's, and our own views. We should rethink why we have a certain view or opinion, and what some other possible perspectives could be. The important thing to remember is that one can still have a preference for one side, but be open to listening to the other side and understanding that there are valid reasons from the other perspective. Realizing that one had been thinking “black and white” and switching perspectives after confronting this kind of thinking is okay, and it can be the path to lead us towards progress.
This post was edited by Arshia Sharma.