The Binary Mind

Have you ever heard of binary thinking? Here’s one definition:

“Binary thinking, also known as dichotomous thinking, happens when complex concepts, ideas, and problems are overly simplified into an either/or perspective. Binary thinking is black and white. Good or bad. Always or never.”

An example of binary thinking is “should I eat something healthy (good) for lunch or something I really want (bad)?” Or, “I’m always going to vote for Democrats because I hate Republicans.”

This kind of on-off, black or white thinking eliminates what Hinduists, peacemakers and some independent thinkers call “the middle path.” The middle path is not the same as one side giving in. On the contrary, it’s about all stakeholders abandoning fixed, fearful thinking and moving towards growth mindset where everyone is listened to, respected and no one wins or loses.

The end of suffering is achieved by seeking the middle path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence and excessive self-mortification, leading to the end of the cycle of rebirth. Khan Academy

Yes. It’s the Magic Garden. (Actually, it’s Enlightenment or Nirvana.)

Getting there can be really hard. A couple of paragraphs above, I originally wrote “both sides” instead of “all stakeholders” because my way of using the language is steeped in divisive, oppositional thinking.

So, why is this important?

In conversations this week, Beth and I have often found ourselves discussing the downside of binary thinking, a way of speaking that has become a national, perhaps, international way of framing every issue that comes before us (eg Fox News and MSNBC). With the help of our friends, Amy, and Peter, I’ve come to see that binary thinking is based upon fear – a fear that both forms the initial opinion and keeps us fixed in that position. This is what author, Carol Dweck, calls a “fixed mindset.”

Love is listening. Said another way, listening is how we behave when we want to love and, maybe, be loved in return (there’s no guarantee that another person will follow us here). It means “calling in” a person we disagree with rather than calling them out. It means looking for consensus which, by the way, is hard work.

The secret to traveling with your spouse is not agreeing on everything. It’s knowing how to discuss everything fairly and forgiving one another when we inevitably screw up. Love is humbling, at times.

BTW, you don’t have to choose the pizza or the salad. You can have pizza at lunch and then have a salad for dinner. Or you can have one slice of pizza and a small salad for lunch. That’s the middle path menu. Hmmm. Maybe I need to open a restaurant?

News Flash: We don’t have to vote exclusively Democratic or Republican. Really. I’m an adult. I can look at the facts and form my own, nuanced opinion and know that I don’t have to defend it at Thanksgiving.

I’m not sure, yet, where else binary thinking is limiting me, but Peter, one of my colleagues in the music business, has suggested that I have some work ahead of me. I’m okay with that. Those of you who read this blog know that it’s the kind of work I like.

May you find the middle path and may it lead you to love.

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