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Posts Tagged ‘how we think’

The curse of binary thinking

In behavior, culture, domestic life, education, life, politics, religion, US on July 17, 2014 at 2:39 am

By Caitlin Kelly

When we started dating 14 years ago my now-husband drove me nuts with the phrase he still uses, (and which I now just laugh at):

“We could do one of two things”…

I’m sure — Broadside readers being a smart, educated bunch — some of you surely know, and can explain to me, the underpinnings of such a narrow worldview.

american-flag-2a

It feels these days as though everyone has joined one side of another. Our worldview is binary:

All or nothing.

Black or white.

Right or wrong.

Gay or straight.

Liberal or conservative.

Pro-choice or pro-life.

Gun control advocate or “gun nut” (not my phrase!)

It feels absurdly and, to me increasingly, stupidly, American.

Hello…Congress?

When most of us know, or realize, that life is a hell of a lot more complicated than that. It is shaded and nuanced. And our most firmly and fixed beliefs can change over time.

I had two moments of this recently, both within an hour, one on-line arguing, (and quickly withdrawing from useless online arguments), with some woman I don’t know in a on-line forum, and the other at my local hardware store.

I was struck, hard, by the realization how easy it is to fall into a habit of thinking (why?) in terms of either/or, not both. Exclusion, not inclusion. Narrowing, not expanding, our notions of the possible.

People who speak several languages and/or have lived for long periods outside of their home culture and/or are married to or partnered with someone of a very different background often move beyond this limited thinking because it is challenged every day.

What we consider “normal” is simply normal for us.

The first argument was over work and its relative importance in our lives.

Americans — especially those who have never lived beyond their borders — often feel that working really hard all the time is the single most useful thing to do with one’s life. Being “successful” materially is the classic goal. And a very skimpy social safety net ensures that few can stray far from the grindstone because unless you’re debt-free, rich and/or have a shit-ton of savings, you will soon be broke and homeless and then, missy, you’ll be sorry!

The woman I was arguing with, a manager within my industry, kept positing two poles — marathoner/ambitious/admirable or useless/annoying/slacker. For fucks’ sake.

Very few people love their work every day until they die. If they do, awesome! But making anyone who doesn’t agree feel the same way somehow less than, or imputing slackerdom to their ambivalence, is bullshit.

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

Some people actually work for the money. Not passion.

For many people — and not simply “slackers” — their true passions and joys lie beyond the workplace: faith, family, travel, volunteer work, pets, and/or creative projects that simply make them, and others, happy.

My second “Duh!” moment happened while trying to buy gray matte-finish paint for our balcony railings. There was only white and black on offer. The sales clerk and I stood there staring at the cans, my frustration growing, his boredom blossoming.

I was pissed there wasn’t exactly what I wanted — when it was right there in front of me for the seeing of it, and making it myself.

Black plus white = gray.

How embarrassing that it took us so long to figure that out. I felt like an utter fool for not noticing that right away. It was a great wake-up call.

Do you find yourself trapped into this way of thinking?

What would it take for you to even consider the value of the other side of an argument?

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

In behavior, design, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, Money, women on March 28, 2011 at 11:54 am
The 'Glasses Apostle' in the altarpiece of the...

Time for a new vision? Definitely! Image via Wikipedia

I returned home a few weeks ago after a three-week absence, the longest I had been away for a few years in one stretch.

I suddenly saw the bedroom, robin’s egg blue, with fresh eyes, and I wanted a change, a big one.

Now it’s soft, warm gray — the same color we’ve had in our small dining room for a few years. It’s the exact shade of cigarette ash, soothing yet clean and crisp without being cold. (It’s called Modern Gray from Sherwin-Williams and the owners of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie [one of my favorite stores] have the exact same color in their country home.)

One of the great challenges of everyday life is being able to see things with fresh eyes. It all starts to blur after a while into a haze of comforting, familiar, routine sameness.

Putting my mother into a nursing home jolted me — hard — out of this stupor.

I sat with her at dinner, a silent room filled with nodding gray heads, and came home desperately grateful for my sweetie’s laughter and loud music and even the noisy small baby downstairs.

We sorted through boxes of her belongings, lovely things she had acquired from all over the world, from hand-embroidered dresses from India to a folk art wooden animal she bought in London. I came home determined to toss everything without meaning or serious value to me, from my old wedding ring to the armoire that’s been in the garage for three years.

The cost of her care every month is as much as we, combined, earn. Now we’re looking into long-term care insurance.

What has sharpened your vision lately?

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