Nuance seems to have all but fallen out of the public discourse today. Black and white thinking and polarised views seem to attack each other ignoring the fact that things rarely are that simple.
Oversimplification is a killer
I find it incredible that many seem unable to criticise a specific action of a person (e.g. politician, leader) while praising another separate action. The assumption seems to be that criticism of one action, automatically puts you in the camp of “against”. And praise of an action automatically puts you in the camp of “for”.
This kind of oversimplification just does not cut it if you are interested in the truth. Perhaps, this is why I am so reluctant to attend dinner parties. At least, Coronavirus has solved that problem for me temporarily.
Our modern world, unlike our ancestral environments, is incredibly complex. There is so much information in our vastly interconnected and interdependent systems. The many interacting elements to any problem mean that we have to take care when damning and deifying actions or individuals. Looking at things case-by-case and appreciating the importance of nuance is then fundamental.
For example, is it really that difficult to see that two actions, “good” and “bad”, can both originate from the same person?
Perhaps, there is a deeper story here too. One where we are forgetting what it is be human. That other people too are capable of varied actions in the same way that we as individuals are. Fully blown saints and sinners are rare! And, there are many sinners masquerading as saints.
So, if we are to have any hope of cooperating effectively, we must try and become more aware of basic errors of black and white thinking. Going further, these errors are also a breach of ethics when they are consciously done. It is unethical to ignore the nuanced truth, in favour of a simplified story that you like for whatever reason — most likely because it backs-up your beliefs.
Seeing your black and white thinking
So, let us be vigilant of polarised black and white thinking and how we can all be victim to it. Sometimes, the error may be quite unconscious, at other times we may choose to ignore the truth simply because we don’t like it.
As with many things, it is a deeper awareness and clarity of self that is the path to avoiding these pitfalls.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.
This article came up when I asked Google about “non-nuanced, black and white”. It was calming to read it as I was reviewing a recent interaction with an adult son. It was helpful to realize that he has seldom expressed a nuanced opinion on anything and that at 37 he is unlikely to change. I have concluded it is probably masochistic for me to attempt further communication with him. He told me I have, in his words, “an extremely female brain”. Don’t know what a female brain or a male brain is. I always thought people were complex, not easily categorized, and gender based classifications highly suspect. Thank you for this space to reflect on why a cordial communication with my son may not be possible in this lifetime.
You are very welcome, Barbara. Thanks for reading for sharing your experience. 🙏🏽