Pass me the grey.
When you think dichotomously, you’re trying to make life simpler, easier.
Think about the last time you got some bad news. If you reacted with a ‘screw it, this can’t happen to me’ or a ‘well, that’s it, I have to leave the country / throw my phone in a river’ — congratulations. You experienced fight or flight mode. You are a fully-functioning mammal. This happened to me yesterday.
But what surprised me most was that this didn’t just happen to me — my nearest and dearest reacted with their own fight or flight responses to my news. We are reactionary, impulsive animals — I know.
Black and White
The false sense of security we so crave from this categorical thought-pattern is not our fault, per se. It’s a product of evolution. The lion is either trying to eat you or it isn’t. Something is either dangerous or it’s not. But those ideas come from simpler times.
The filters you’re trying to apply do not align with the experience of modern existence.
We have developed the technology to ensure our survival, to the point that we can be embarrassingly passive about staying alive and this has happened in a shockingly short time. Our brains simply haven’t been able to catch up.
On top of the cognitive-fuckery the modern age has pulled on our mental health, there are still some times when we need good old black-and-white thinking. Being able to consider multiple outcomes and viewpoints is a fantastic skill — but when the earthquake comes, such as what woke me this morning, you only have a limited amount of time to make a decision.
So as with all things, if quitting it entirely would be cutting your nose off, it’s time to learn how to control it.
In base mode your brain will control you — that’s the default setting that’s gotten you this far. Sentience seems to be about making an active connection with your brain. You are each other’s responsibility but this relationship can be less parent-and-child parking area and more tipsy-friends-at-the-zoo if you work at it.
Practicing mindfulness is a great step. By mindfulness, I mean taking a step back when something happens that you don’t like. Thinking things through. Even sleeping on them. Find a quiet spot, turn your phone off unless it’s in the river already and try to visualise the bigger picture.
Think of it this way:
If it isn’t likely to directly kill you, you have time to think.
Turning off dichotomous thinking is a continuous effort, but it’ll help you and your loved ones throughout the many curve-balls of existence.