The primary threat to America, Democracy, and our future is not Trump. It isn’t the GOP. It’s not Congress. It’s not North Korea. The primary threat to our nation is the binary, one-sided, either/or, black and white inflammatory, extremist thinking designed to distract us. This either/or thinking is dumbing down the American public to the important issues that threaten our Nation, our Democracy and the future of humanity.
Why Either/Or Binary Thinking Is So Dangerous
Binary thinking is dangerous because it shuts down our ability to embrace middlepath, both/and thinking; the ability to
- search for the truths on both sides of an issue and
- explore the nuances present in every issue.
When only one side of an issue is presented as “absolute truth”, pay attention. Be suspicious. The world is never that simple. And nobody is smart enough to be right, or wrong, all of the time. The person or organization behind either/or binary thinking is almost always attempting to emotionally manipulate you and use your emotional response to turn you into compliant sheep. They are selling something…..usually a political agenda that’s designed to protect their power or wealth.
A good example of this binary thinking technique to emotionally distract us was the furor over NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem. They were loudly and aggressively accused of being anti-patriotic. We were encouraged by our political leadership to stop going to NFL football games. We were told that all kneelers should be fired. They were labeled as evil and should be severely punished for their anti-patriotic behavior.
There was little to no emotional recognition that they were protesting the growing number of people of color being shot by police around the country. That reality was all but ignored in the national debate over whether they were patriotic or anti-patriotic. That binary, one-sided response from our political leadership effectively distracted a large part of our nation. It all but shut down intelligent conversation and dialogue on the larger issue of racism and police violence against people of color in our Nation.
One-Sided Binary Thinking Is Creating Polarized Anger In Our Nation
Unfortunately, almost all of us are unconsciously guilty of either/or, one-sided binary thinking. This is especially true when we talk with others about our religious beliefs, our political beliefs, our beliefs on global warming, the unconscious racism present in our Nation, the rights of women, LGBT rights, health care, or abortion. The polarization in our Nation is growing. We are becoming an angry Nation. And this list is only a handful of the many emotional subjects that we are passionately one-sided about when we talk with others.
We manifest this behavior unconsciously because we passionately believe in our beliefs and values. They define who we are. But until we awaken to this unconscious tendency to use one-sided, ideologically rigid, binary thinking in our conversation with others, we will only continue to create anger and conflict with those around us. It will shut down our ability to move forward and find creative solutions to the growing economic, social, and environmental crises that threaten our Nation and our planet.
Because in our passion to defend our beliefs as absolute truth, we use binary either/or thinking that effectively shuts down the possibility of a creative dialogue. A conversation that might lead to the truths and insights found on both sides of every issue.
Our ego’s passionate need to be right causes us to become aggressive, and that aggression quickly creates conflict and anger. We shut down our ability to listen, our ability to ask questions, our respect for the other person’s beliefs…..and most importantly, our aggressive need to be right tends to shut down any possibility for creativity and compromise. We find ourselves emotionally vilifying those who disagree with us and labeling them as stupid, uninformed, and dangerous. Even evil.
The possibility for a peaceful relationship that honors those who disagree with us is quickly destroyed. And sadly, that includes the relationships we have with neighbors, family members, and friends.
Binary Thinking Is Intentional Ignorance
When we use binary, either/or extremist thinking to defend our opinions, our beliefs, or our personal worldviews, we tend to politicize all of our conversations. We limit ourselves to only two options….either/or and right or wrong. Of course, our ego always chooses to be right. And anyone who disagrees with us is therefore automatically wrong. They quickly become the enemy. The dangerous “other” from whom we have to defend our selves. And once again, the deeper wisdom, insights, and compromise that could result from the nuances present in a middlepath, both/and conversation are not possible.
All creative dialogue, compromise, new learning, and new insights that might result from a constructive conversation about the area of disagreement quickly turns into an aggressive ideological battle to prove whose “right” and whose wrong.
Instead of searching for the truths that are always present on both side of any issue or disagreement, our unconscious use of binary, either/or thinking becomes nothing more than our ego’s unconscious need to convince the other person that they are wrong.
Aggressive binary thinking destroys all attempts to create cooperative, sustainable, resilient, self-reliant human relationships and global cultures. It creates conflict and violence in family relationships. It destroys friendships. It is currently shutting down virtually all dialogue, compromise, and progress in Congress. And most importantly, it shuts down our ability to learn, grow and evolve both personally and collectively……as a Nation or as a cooperative global species.
In other words, binary thinking puts us on the path to self-imposed ignorance.
Conversational Skills To Stop Binary Thinking
Stopping binary thinking is actually quite easy. Here are four conversational techniques we can embrace that will lead to wisdom, insight, compromise, and the ability to discover creative paths forward in any conversation with those around us.
First: Learn to share your beliefs without your sense of “self” attached. Recognize that your beliefs are not who you are. They are simply your ego’s way of creating a sense of “self”. In fact, most of what you believe to be true are beliefs you learned in childhood. Pay attention to the fact that they are subjective beliefs, not absolute truths.
Second: Learn to stop talking and begin listening with an open mind. Make understanding the other person’s thoughts your top priority. Learn to ask questions in order to more fully understand the other person’s position on the subject. Actively search for the truths in the other person’s position. Offer them moral respect and empathy for their motives.
Third: When you fully understand “what” the other person believes, “why” they believe what they do, and “how” they came to that belief…..then, and only then, are you are ready to move onto the fourth step.
Fourth: When you are certain that you have done a good job implementing the first three steps, gently ask if the other person would like to hear your thoughts. If they fail to ask questions or simply continue to discount your position, don’t engage any further. They are not interested in what you believe. Let it go. Refuse to create conflict with them.
They obviously believe that their beliefs represent absolute truth.
They are unconsciously trapped in rigid, ideological binary thinking and their childhood primitive ego’s need to be right.
And they are telling you clearly that their ignorance is just as good as the knowledge they might gain by asking questions and listening to your position on the matter.
In other words, you cannot change a closed mind! So don’t attempt to engage them with that goal in mind. They have chosen to be intentionally ignorant. Smile, try to change the subject or gently disengage from them.
As you practice these steps, you will naturally begin to find more open-minded people who are willing to search for truths on both sides of an issue. Together, you will begin to discover insights that will make you more effective in discovering creative ideas and solutions to deal with the growing crises that face us as a Nation and as a species. Including the ability to manifest the peaceful, compassionate wisdom our collective human culture needs as we collectively struggle to discover a more viable path forward.
Awakening to binary thinking is not a luxury. It is an imperative! Our collective human consciousness needs to awaken to a new way of thinking. And we need to awaken now. We are running out of time.
Our world is drowning under waves of change that threaten our future….global warming, climate intensification, population growth, wealth inequality, extremist ideologies, excessive resource extraction and our economy’s war on nature…….and we are not constructively talking about these important issues. We are not yet able to come up with creative solutions to deal with them, and we are currently unable to pass national or global laws that could effectively address them. In fact, we are currently creating laws and legislation intentionally designed to shut down our ability to respond. Unfortunately, much of our current political leadership; like much of our collective human consciousness, is trapped in aggressive, rigid, binary either/or thinking…..including an inflexible, ideologically rigid need to be right.
When we add the concept of cognitive dissonance* to our already existing tendency for rigid, aggressive binary thinking……finding creative “whole thinking” global solutions to the crises that are rapidly approaching….is turning out to be all but impossible.
*(the inability for us to take in any knowledge or data that disagrees with our current beliefs)
Darwin’s Theory tells us that species survival is best achieved by those who are most able to embrace change…..not by those who are the most powerful, intelligent, or strongest. Intentionally doing the same thing today that we did yesterday, and somehow expecting to get a different outcome……..is another clear sign of ignorance.
We need to awaken our collective human consciousness. We need to learn to embrace change. We need to learn to fight for our values rather than against the darkness. And most importantly, we need to more intentionally learn to adopt middlepath ways of thinking and being in the world. We need to learn to intentionally search for the truths on the other person’s side of the issue because no one is smart enough to be right, or wrong, all the time.We are clearly running out of time to embrace this awakening of our collective human consciousness.
And most importantly, we need to continue fighting for our values even if we think we will fail…..because that is how important change happens in the world.
A Final Thought For A Peaceful World
Here is a poem that a friend sent to me. It reflects the awakening we need to embrace as we fight for the values that give meaning to our lives….and our nation.
The poem speaks of a powerful legacy we could gift our children and future generations.
as water is,
Flow around the edges
of those within your path.
Surround within your ever-moving depths
those who come to rest there—
enfold them, while never for a moment holding on.
Accept whatever distance
others are moved within your flow.
Be with them gently
as far as they allow your strength to take them,
and fill with your own being
the remaining space when they are left behind.
When dropping down life’s rapids,
froth and bubble into fragments if you must,
knowing that the one of you now many…
will just as many times be one again.
And when you’ve gone as far as you can go,
quietly await your next beginning.
~Noel McInnis, July 5. 1977