A teacher had once asked a yes-no question in class and I came up with the brilliant (non) answer ‘It depends’. He started to laugh and said you completed your degree if that’s the answer you give, now you can be a consultant! In a slightly different situation, a friend was discussing atheist vs not an atheist. I asked him what about agnostic, he replied that is not an atheist.
Which leads to my question, why do people love to have everything in black and white? Why are we so obsessed with having clear-cut answers to everything and hate things that are layered. And in extension hate people who tend to give layered answers. We need to know right or wrong, smart or stupid, strong or weak, supporter or opposer and so on. We don’t want to know who or what lies in between. And this can be something as trivial as judging a person to serious things like acting on the hatred for people who don’t support our views.
Some studies say that it is because our default nature is to categorise things even though the reality in the world is pretty different. We tend to simplify things and put them in boxes because it’s easier to analyse them. For example, take up political opinions. We know if we like a person’s political inclination if we know they support the party we do. When this person gives answers like “I like this philosophy of your party but that philosophy doesn’t make sense” we don’t know whether we like them or not. To know that, we need to do a deeper dive into what they like and what we like, oh, that’s too much effort. So, we paint it black and white. Either you like it or you don’t. It is not for no reason that the land in between is called ‘no-man’s land’. You don’t really want to be caught in between.
This is not to say there are no issues where there are clear
rights and wrongs. The burning issues in the world like terrorism, rape have
obvious right and wrong arenas. But consider a question like should any country
spend on space research when there’s starvation to be considered? To me, that’s
not a black and white answer and people who try to simplify that are just
trying to feel superior by categorising stuff. It’s a very gratifying feeling,
that we know what is right, we have drawn the boundaries and lines around which
we can define what is right and sitting in the middle of the ground of right,
we can feel extremely superior. What we don’t realise is that after drawing
those boundaries and lines we have closed off our minds to other possibilities
and basically narrowed our minds for the sake of feeling superior.
And it’s not just us normal beings who are susceptible to this. All our preachers of ideal qualities abhor the other side. If it is optimism being preached, the slightest pessimism is not tolerated. When in reality, some pessimism is actually good, makes for practical thinking, gives a reality check and prevents people from faking their emotions all the time.
Personally, I am a fan of the grey areas and adore people who can see the grey. I think the middle ground gives more scope for broadening the mind. We should at least try to consider the middle ground once in a while, even though we don’t believe in it, just for the sake of knowing the other side. Plain black and white is just a precursor to extremism.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.