Finding the Middle Ground

two black horses

Have you heard of “either/or thinking?” It’s a dangerous but fairly common mistake that many of us have been conditioned to make. Perhaps it’s time to find the middle ground.

Either/or thinking, or black-and-white/yes-or-no thinking as it’s sometimes called, is a dangerous thing. It’s basically just what it sounds like. Either/or thinkers don’t see shades of grey. They want easy answers to difficult questions, so they see life in terms of winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, success or failure, right and wrong. There is no room for nuance or higher-level thinking and reflection.

What they fail to realize is that right and wrong often depend on time, place, culture and purpose, among other things. They fail to understand that no one is all good or all bad, or that “success” and “failure” depend on how you define them – just like “winning” and “losing” do. These people don’t see the degrees of difference that stretch between most opposites, because if they did, it would require more time and energy being devoted to complex thinking skills and a willingness to deal with subtle differences.

Now, it’s true that they don’t see these things. Because of these dearly-held beliefs, their brains build blind spots, or “scotomas,” to any information that is contrary, because it threatens their either/or belief system. So even if a nuance is true, it can’t get through.

Here is a homework assignment, for the rest of this year. During this coming holiday season, while you are at special dinners, parties or get-togethers, just sit and listen to the conversations around you. What are you hearing? How many people are engaging in this “either/or” thinking? How does it affect the rest of the people in the conversation?

In an increasingly global society, flexibility of thinking is a must. Catch yourself doing either/or thinking. Most of us do it, from time to time, and it drastically limits our options. Deliberate self-awareness is essential – and a strong desire to keep your mind open to the full range of possibilities will keep you from getting trapped in an “either/or” world.