We live in a world that is highly complex and full of nuances and intricacies. To use the words of poets, there are many shades of gray to almost everything. That said, we seem to want things much simpler, so we tend to choose black or white. You’re either with us or against us. It’s bath or shower, Apple or Microsoft, blue or red, shoes or sandals, juice or coffee, and so on. In other words, when presented with a choice, we choose. Why?
Black and White Thinking
There is an interesting anecdote shared by Kevin Dutton in his book, Black and White Thinking. While visiting in San Francisco he stopped into a coffee shop. There he saw two jars on the counter. One said kittens and the other said puppies. People who checked out would invariably see the two jars and, as though they were compelled to both make a choice and to defend that choice, they would deposit money in one of the jars. When he asked two women about what they were doing, they did indeed defend why they chose as they did, but neither provided an explanation for why they contributed money to either jar.
What is it about being human that propels us in such a way? The fact is, our evolution insisted that we make quick either/or decisions. A matter of choice, to eat or be eaten. To run or to fight? However, despite this engrained evolutionary bias, when we choose to become aware, alternatives appear. Still, until we wake up, we will continue to not only think in binary terms but according to a certain domino effect.
So, let’s assume that you chose puppies over kittens. That suggests that if I ask you to choose between cat litter and dog food, you’ll choose the latter. And all other choices of this type would follow as a matter of consistency. Indeed, one of the many compliance tools used by marketers aims at exploiting our need for consistency.
Okay, think about this then for a moment. If you choose liberal over conservative, how hard is it to find ideas among the conservatives that you really like? And the reverse is true. So now we’re no longer thinking about individual ideas, we’re stuck in the domino of related ideas. This seems especially true when we face our peer group who is like-minded. So now we have the group (group thinking) pressure added to our need for consistency.
Shades of Gray
Shades of gray—where are you? I admit that I am enthused about the green motivation in our country. We all want a green, healthy planet. However, is it possible to consider an idea like oil drilling and weigh it against energy independence versus green ideation, or is the idea so explosively damaged as to enrage the green mindset before consideration? Is it possible to consider the alternatives in detail, or are we stuck with consistency? Is the planet better off with the oil coming from the Middle East than from our own country, at least until we have an electric infrastructure? Are we being “green” minded when we refuse oil drilling in America, but purchase oil from other countries? Is there a benefit to drilling for oil on our own terms? And yet as I ask this question, I can’t help but wonder if I might offend someone because I ask the question.
It seems that if we accept one idea, one choice, say of “green,” that we’re committed to many green ideas, and so committed that perhaps we fail to apply proper reasoning. Unfortunately, this can be true of every choice we make and many fail to recognize that it’s a pail of ideas we buy into when we make these choices—not that we must, but that we often do.
So, here’s the deal—when you choose between this or that, pay attention and always remember that you’re not obligated to fill your pail with every other idea that comes under the umbrella of the first. Maybe I want cat litter because it is great for ice-covered sidewalks instead of dog food.
Those are my thoughts, I always welcome yours.
Thanks for the read,
Provocative Enlightenment Radio
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusion