It’s the middle of the afternoon on a warm, sunny day and you are feeling hungry. Across the street, you see an old-fashioned ice cream shop that advertises thirty-six flavors of homemade ice cream. You begin to dream of fresh waffle cones and your mouth starts watering. Quickly crossing the street, you open the door to the sweet tinkle of a bell. There, in all their homemade glory, thirty-six beautiful containers of ice cream rest in a case behind a glass window.
The shop is quiet. You don’t really notice the tables of silent people hunched over their bowls of ice cream because your eyes are focused on the menu. How in the world are you going to choose? Maybe they will let you have more than one kind on your cone.
You approach the case and stare dreamily at the swirls of fudge, raspberry, and peanut butter. You pause to gaze at the creamy green circle of mint chip. Then you hear a voice.
“Would you like chocolate or vanilla?”
You look up from the ice cream case to see the attendant staring at you. Puzzled, you wonder if you heard them right. “Excuse me?”
“Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” They ask again.
You are confused. There are thirty-six different flavors of ice cream. Why do they want you to chose between chocolate and vanilla?
The attendant is still staring at you. “You should pick chocolate. We all eat chocolate ice cream here. In fact, only bad people choose vanilla.”
Now you are really confused. “But, I was hoping for mint chocolate chip.” you stammer.
“Mint chip is basically vanilla. And you can’t have vanilla. Only stupid people eat vanilla. How about chocolate?”
You don’t really like chocolate ice cream, but you are starting to feel intimidated.
“Mackinaw Island Fudge?” You ask slowly. “It’s got chocolate in it.”
“That’s VANILLA ice cream!” The attendant shrieks. “Vanilla ice cream is BAD! Only terrible people eat vanilla ice cream. What’s wrong with you?”
“Butter pecan?” you whisper.
The attendant glares at you. In a cold voice, they slowly say, “If it’s not chocolate, then it’s vanilla. Vanilla is evil.”
Ice cream has lost it’s appeal and you turn to leave.
“Where are you going? You can’t leave without eating some chocolate ice cream.” The attendant has moved from behind the counter and is blocking your path to the door. The tables of customers stare silently at you, hunched over their bowls of chocolate ice cream.
With a yell, you push past the attendant and make a run for the door. Safely outside, you turn to look back. Your appetite for ice cream has been ruined and it’s doubtful you’ll be heading into any ice cream shop in the near future.
Believing that there are only two acceptable options or opinions is called Black and White Thinking. In reality, situations, people, and beliefs are rarely black and white. Most of the world is actually a misty gray. Black and white thinking is common within religion. This mindset is also evident in the recent, extreme political divide in our country.
Having grown up in an ultra religious sub-culture of Christianity where black and white was just the way we thought, I’d like to share some reasons why I believe this mindset is dangerous.
Black and White Thinking isolates us. We always think our perspective it correct; its OUR perspective after all! But in reality, our perspective is warped because of our biases, experiences, personalities, etc. By only surrounding ourselves with other people who think like us, our biased perspective is confirmed. We are right and they are wrong.
Honestly, if we are going to have a more accurate understanding of life, we need to get to know and listen to people who are different from us. We need to hear the heart of who they are, the experiences they have had, and the reasons they think and feel the way they do. Reality is found within a combination of different perspectives.
Black and White Thinking creates enemies. If there are only two options, then life quickly becomes us versus them. Supposed truth and safety is found within the comfort of our camp. Anyone who doesn’t think like us is viewed with suspicion. We do not see the complexities of others’ humanity and we ignore their stories and experiences. We are quick to bestow motives on them based on our own opinions and not on their actual intentions. In reality, there are very few truly evil people in the world. Most people have legitimate reasons for their perspectives, whether or not we agree with them.
Black and White Thinking is often based in fear. We are naturally afraid of things we do not understand. This fear can easily be exploited by people who are trying to control us. Most differences are not bad, they are just different. When we are controlled by black and white thinking, our fear keeps us from exploring or pursuing people who have differences. That fear traps us within our own narrow perspective. Fear is not from God! We need to evaluate our fear and discover if it is truly rational or not. Is our enemy Satan, a spiritual leader, or even the media exploiting our fear in an effort to control us? This leads me to my next point.
Black and White Thinking only benefits those in power. This is true in a religious setting, in a political one, and anywhere in between. People in power love to promote black and white thinking because minions who think like this are easier to control. If we went back to the ice cream illustration I started with, who is benefiting in that scenario? The makers of chocolate ice cream! Who benefits in a religious system? The guy in charge of the church, cult, or organization. Who benefits in politics? The media and the people in political power. Black and white thinking is not helpful for the minions. We would be much better off connecting with all sorts of people with various backgrounds and beliefs. Our own opinions might be strengthened or changed as they are challenged, but we will be free to hear from one another.
And so, I would challenge all of us to take a good look at our own hearts and minds. Do we really think there are only two options? Do we have to be right? Is it possible to live in the tension of misty gray? Are we willing to see other human beings as valuable whether or not we agree? Can we choose to listen carefully and ask questions as others share their opinions and beliefs? Will we challenge the powers who are encouraging this dangerous mindset?
I’ve experienced the damage that black and white thinking produces first hand. It’s not worth it! The best thing that ever happened to me was learning to listen to people that I didn’t agree with… We don’t all have to be on the same page in order to get along.