F**k Binary Thinking on Complicated Social Issues

Todd Kashdan
Sep 19, 2018 · 3 min read

In the past month, the world has been almost evenly split on whether the tennis world is sexist and racist (Serena Williams), whether it is acceptable to make a silent protest for a social cause (Colin Kaepernick), and whether a supreme court nominee should be pulled because of an allegation of attempted rape decades earlier (Brett Kavanaugh).

I have one suggestion. Don’t let the media or social pressure force you into binary thinking on complicated issues. You can hold two ideas at once. Consider the Brett Kavanaugh saga as of this moment (because the news cycle is quick and who knows what revelations will be revealed later today). You can have:

1. profound empathy for victims but even more, a willingness to do whatever is possible to prevent sexual victimization and punish those who are perpetrators


2. a respect for due process. and great hope that the legal system will be fair and comprehensive, knowing full well it is really hard to discern what happened when so many years transpire since the alleged event (even though my confidence in the system is waning).

In these situations, I like to engage in thought experiments. What if you are older and had a son in this situation and was accused and presumed guilty right away by 50% of the United States? What if you had a daughter who had been suffering in silence for 20 years and finally shared her experience in confidence with two people, her husband, and a senator? And is now ready to speak out?

These are complicated, emotionally intense issues for us on the outside looking in, with no clue what happened. And it is naive to say that each person involved lacks motives for their behavior. This is why we have a legal system (as flawed as it is) as opposed to the mob mentality of justice in the past (and still in some societies today).

You can continue with thought experiences and ask: What if Serena Williams performed amazingly in the final of the US Open, and won? What if Colin Kaepernick had an exemplary record as an Army Ranger or SEAL Team 6 prior to his stint in the NFL? How would the public be responding if Brett Kavanaugh was a staunch supporter of women’s rights and vowed to uphold pro-choice to the detriment of winning the nomination?

A little perspective taking and prudence goes a long way.

Let the critical thinking begin.

Note: this is the best article I’ve read on how to appropriately and effectively conduct the Supreme Court headings (lessons from the mishap with Anita Hill).

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a public speaker, psychologist, professor of psychology and senior scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University. His latest book is The upside of your dark side: Why being your whole self — not just your “good” self — drives success and fulfillment. For more, visit: toddkashdan.com

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Professor, psychologist, author, scientist; providing information on the science of happiness, meaning in life, and what makes life most worth living.