Breaking The False Dichotomy and A Notion of Monochromatic World

There’s an old wisdom that says everything in this world has its pair and/or counterpart. There’s day and there’s night, there’s good and there’s evil, there’s white and there’s black. While the above is true or probably true, but because of our mind that is hardwired to look for shortcuts when thinking, we’re usually having a tunnel vision to see the above things as the only “truth”. So, instead of “there’s day and there’s night”, sometimes we think of it as if “there’s only day and night”, disregarding anything in-between (morning, evening, dawn). And this is what we could call a false dichotomy, specifically a black and white thinking or splitting.

It is part of human nature to be very vulnerable to this type of thinking. Not only that it is already our nature to look for shortcuts, but also the society we live in “secretly” promotes this kind of thinking. The famous blatant use of this kind of thinking is the George W. Bush’s, “You’re either with us, or against us” after the 9/11. Although it is tempting to think that a person that don’t like you probably hates you, it is not always right. There are “in-betweens” that usually just passes through our busy, hasty mind. For example, if you’re asked about a person in your class or your office that you hardly knew about whether you like or hate that person, it’s probably hard for you to answer that question. Because “in-between” like and hate there are other feelings like, well you barely know him, and don’t know what to tell, or you know the person and felt neutral towards the person, thus you neither like nor hate the person.

Nuance

These ideas of “in-betweens” are the main talking point of this topic and in this piece we will call it as nuance. To describe what is nuance, one could imagine how the white light turned into a spectrum of colors when it passes through a glass prism. In physics, a subtle difference in spectrum’s wavelength or frequency could make a difference between red and orange. In our thinking world, nuance is the subtle difference that makes an idea better reflected. By seeing the nuances of an idea or an event, one could better comprehend the idea or situation.

Let me try to give an example. A friend of mine recently wrote a long essay about Jakarta’s Bay Reclamation Project. She lays out the facts for both common talking points of the issue which is, whether to continue project or not to. She takes it from the social, economic, to the environmental viewpoints. I was almost sure that in the end of the writing she would suggest to protest against the project, but thankfully, I was wrong. She actually went for the middle ground in the issue, she suggested that both sides have an impact, both negatives and positives. And while it is very tempting to protests against the issue, but she realized that it is also very hard for the government to make a good decision in this kind of issue. It’s not that I’m defending the government or anything, it’s like I said before, one could neither like nor dislike an idea, and in this case apparently I’m on that “third” side too. The nuance of the issue though, that rather than deciding between black and white, we, and the government obviously, should probably focus on looking for the middle ground between the two, seeking for compromises on both ends.

Training Our Mind for Nuance

“But man, there are times when we really can only choose from two choices”

Yes, and we know that such things are the truth that most of us faces so many times, the choice between the two. But are those the only truth though? Like I said before, we’re almost always tempted to have the easy way of thinking, that is by splitting our choices into two. By training our mind to see the nuances between our choices, the two choices could potentially branch out to three or even more choices, or even create a new choice entirely. Although it is very hard to train one’s mind to be able to look for nuances, it is entirely possible to do so.

One could probably exercise through looking for possible nuances on the current common issue or if that’s too much, try to look for nuances in the daily life. For example, a person decided that he/she want to start a healthy habit and that person decided that going to the gym regularly is the only way. For a week or two, the person could keep up with the new habit. But as time goes by, the person slowly left the new habit and just continue with the usual habit. The nuance that the person could probably see is that going for a change doesn’t mean that one should change drastically. Although this is what most of us tend to believe, it is also one of our worst pitfall, overestimating our ability, and in this case is to change our habit. Changing doesn’t and almost never mean to change from A to Z in a night, but as a one-step-at-a-time movement. Nuances of living a healthy habit doesn’t always mean going to the gym or doing heavy exercises regularly, it could also be done by starting to eat healthy food, doing light exercises on a light schedule, or just by starting to have a healthy sleep habit.

Consulting For Nuance

For a rather heavier personal issue that requires us to decide between choices, usually two, sometimes it is rather hard to look for the nuances within our choices as we’re probably too overwhelmed by the complexity of each options and didn’t have time and clearness to think at all of the nuances. It is worth mentioning that asking for advice, when done correctly, could help a lot to look for nuances within our options. One could ask to their peers (partner, sibling, parent, friend, etc.) that they’re comfortable with sharing their ideas, to try and look for nuances from their perspective of one’s issue.

It is imperative that the question should be framed correctly for it to be effective, as a wrong question will almost always gave a wrong answer. For example, rather than asking “I have option A and B, A is blablabla and B is blablabla, which one should I choose?”, it is better to frame the question this way, “I have an issue about X, and I have thought at least two choices that I could go with, that is A and B, what do you think about these choices? Do you have any other suggestion besides the two?”. The first question framed so that the adviser is potentially trapped between the false dichotomy and have a notion that there are only two options that the person could choose, but the second question framed so that the adviser have a say about the options rather than choosing it for the person, they even have the opportunity to give more options.

That being said, nuances are merely a tool, a powerful tool, but a tool nonetheless. It has its own flaw and its effectiveness rely so much on the person using the tool, the man behind the tool (or the gun if I may). It’s flaw as a tool is rather obvious, the first flaw is that it could potentially complexify a rather simple problem, the second flaw is that it could potentially obscures the main point of an idea or opposing ideas, the third flaw is that it requires a lot of time and energy to put into mind and it wastes so much resources to use.

And like any other tool, the person using it determines what the tool would do. An irresponsible person could make a nuance to make an inherently good idea to look bad and vice versa. It could also be used to obscures the main talking point by making the audiences overwhelmed by lots and lots of (rather unnecessary) nuances. It could also give birth to a new extreme and it just changes the world from a false dichotomy to a trichotomy. But nuance have a rather distinguishable trait that makes it very easy to recognize whether being used properly or not, and that’s moderation and compromise. If a nuance that you’re confronted with is brimming with extremities and hyperboles, it is advisable to get away from such thing.


That’s it from me, I hope you enjoy the piece. Constructed criticism are always welcomed. Also if you have a rather interesting question, you could write it to me and I’ll probably pick one or two best ones to answer in my future writings or I could also use your question for the future topic. Thanks for reading and have a nice day!

Note: I got most of my inspirations (and facts) for writing this piece from Daniel Kahneman’s Book, Thinking: Fast and Slow. It is a great book and if you like this kind of topic you should check that out!