Shades of Grey

two black and white labeled bottles

In the color palette, perhaps the starkest difference is between the color black and the color white. We apply this difference to a way of thinking, a mindset that refuses to see the range of greys between the two extremes. This mindset is also known as either/or thinking. Either/or thinking, or black and white thinking, can be a very dangerous thing, and is basically just what it sounds like – a fixed mindset.

Either/or thinkers don’t see shades of gray. They want easy answers to every situation, and they like to keep it simple. Nuance has no place in their thinking. These either/or thinkers see life in terms of winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, success or failure, right and wrong. What they fail to realize is that right and wrong often depend on time, place, culture and purpose, among other things.

They don’t see that no one is all good or all bad, or that success and failure depend on how you define them, as do winning and losing. Neither do they see the degrees of difference that stretch between most polar opposites. If they did, they would need to accept the complexity of life today, cultivate deeper thinking skills, as well as the ability to recognize and deal with subtle differences.

It is true that either/or thinkers don’t see these things. They build blind spots, or scotomas, to this information because it threatens their either/or belief system. It simply doesn’t get through. Open and considered discussion becomes near impossible. You can see evidence of this every day, in the local, national and international news stories. Just check today’s newspaper or online news services.

Do you ever catch yourself doing either/or thinking? Most of us do, from time to time. It’s a dangerous habit, but it’s one you can learn to break if you choose to. Self-awareness is the first step. A strong desire to change and grow will help you open up your thinking to possibilities, and keep you from getting stuck in a black and white world – a world that, in reality, doesn’t exist.