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Black and White thinking in a gray world

2017-09-12 00:00:26
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Gone are the days when on seeking an opinion on anything – be it an idea, food, movie, clothing – one would have a wide variety of answers. The range would include – good, very good, somewhat good, not bad, tolerable, bit bad and bad. There was an assortment of middle ground opinions or nuances between the good and the bad.  


Today ask a person for his or her opinion and more often than not the answer is limited to the two extremes. It’s either, ‘awesome’ or ‘rotten’ or ‘fabulous’ or ‘horrible’ or anything on those lines. Everything is black or white. Occasionally one would throw around a ‘so, so’ indicating a middle ground or gray area. However this too is becoming rare.  


Ask what one thinks about the world, country, politicians, movies, culture and the sure answer is “not worth even talking about” or “horrible”. There is so much of negativity in their opinion because according to them if things are not good they can be nothing else but bad. While the world, its people and almost everything is grayer in the middle ground, the world population is fast unlearning the terms they used to describe nuances. They are restricting their thinking and vocabulary to the extremes – the good and the bad or the black and the white.  


This polarized thinking has made people see an exaggerated version of whatever one experiences in life. Even a small mistake or lapse is seen as a crime. According to them spouses can either be good or bad and because wife takes long time to dress up, she is bad. A husband is bad because he keeps the cap off the toothpaste tube in the bathroom. Colleagues in office are either awesome or rotten and the colleague who did not invite one to her child’s birthday party was awful. The food is either fabulous or yucky and the food at the reception was yucky because there was too much of salt in the mushroom curry and there wasn’t much of a choice in desserts.   


Similarly driving in Colombo is frustrating and time wasting though one has got caught to bigger traffic jams overseas. The son is a miserable case as he could not get the expected grades at A/Ls despite spending so much on his education, branded clothes and outings with friends. The country is rotten because today’s papers reported two murders and a daylight robbery. What is this country coming to? As gloom hovers over every aspect of one’s life, life itself is nothing but ‘absolutely hopeless’.  


Psychology defines this cognitive distortion, seeing everything in black and white, as splitting which runs the risk of leading one to excessive levels of stress, depression and personality disorders. Stress because one feels that if he or she is not an achiever the person ends up as a failure. This undue pressure to succeed plays havoc on one’s health. When a few things in life fail to turn out the way one wanted them to be a black and white leads to depression.  


Besides even a slight change in such a person is attacked to make the person feel vulnerable and unstable.   


Looking at people’s values or lapses with magnifying glasses often leads to disappointment as it is unrealistic to expect someone to have an established and fixed personality. People’s behaviour is largely dependent on a wide range of causes and conditions and circumstances and therefore fluid. Being predictable in every aspect of life is the last thing one should expect from individuals. Today’s friend may turn unfriendly tomorrow and someone disliked by one today may help one to get out of some trouble and thus be a friend tomorrow. There are no inherently virtuous or vicious people in the world. They have both good and bad tendencies in varying degrees and those who maintain a larger good quotient steadily, over a considerable period, are treated as good. This however is not at all a guarantee that they would remain good all the time.   


While in extreme cases one needs psychiatric treatment, others can cultivate the missing ‘gray’ by being patient and gentle with oneself and others. It’s alright to make mistakes as long as they do not harm others. Life is not a circus where we perform to impress others by risking our lives and forsaking happiness. Stop being obsessively judgmental about others. Relax and look at the larger picture of life.  


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