Quality Blog


Jim’s Gems: Consider All Possibilities

February 18, 2014
Have you heard of either or thinking also referred to as black or white thinking? It’s the manner in which we, as human beings, have categorized our thinking. This is not really a fault but an asset. Without our ability to partition our thoughts and then make generalizations, the world wouldn’t have math, language, or even the ability for coherent thought. However, even though we’ve been conditioned to do this, it can be a dangerous mistake that limits our possibilities.

Either or thinkers don't see shades of gray. When we fall victim to either or we mistakenly limit an entire spectrum of possibilities to the two most extreme choices, each typically the polar opposite of the other without any shades of gray. This is a fallacy because when we limit our choices to two possibilities we block out the multiple options which have not been given consideration.

People who are either or thinkers want easy answers to difficult questions, so they see life in terms of winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, success or failure, right and wrong. The real world, however, is not that simple.

They sometimes fail to realize that success or failure, right or wrong, often depend on time, place, culture, and purpose. They fail to understand that no one is all good or all bad. That success and failure depend on how we define them - just like winning and losing do.

Either or thinkers don't see the degrees of difference that stretch between most opposites, because if they did, it would require more complex thinking skills and a willingness to deal with the differences.

Either or thinkers tend to build blind spots walls to data and information to reflect those ideas or thoughts that threaten their belief system. So even if it the data and information is true, it can't get through their protective mechanisms.

Let’s try a little experiment for the next week or so. While at work, home, or play listen intently to the conversations around you. What are you hearing? How many people are engaging in this either or thinking? How does it affect the rest of the people in the conversation?

Either or thinking is like an infection, reducing the terms of discussion unnecessarily, eliminating an entire range of possible ideas and often demonizing others by implicitly categorizing them as right or wrong. What we might observe during this experiment is that many insist that the situation conforms to our preconceptions rather than adjusting our thinking to accept things as they are.

Most of us have periods of either or thinking but we should work to expand our paradigms as it drastically limits our options and blocks out a multitude of possibilities. Deliberate self-awareness is essential. A strong desire to keep your mind open to the full range of possibilities will keep you from getting locked in to an either or world.

Think about it.
 

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