Spectrum vs Binary Perspectives.

“Life is black and white”. Someone argued this with me a while back and from time to time I find myself thinking about it. I get frustrated because although, this person was adamant he was right I couldn’t articulate myself properly at the time. I just knew that it wasn’t true or at least I didn’t believe that to be true.

I thought about my journey and the journey’s of other people, no one has ever had a straight trajectory to their goals. At some point in our lives, we are tested. It is these tests and struggles that shape us into who we are and how much we value what we have. The grey areas are where all the lessons and internal problem-solving lie. His view that life is black and white, disregard these really important grey areas. For me, the journey is just as important as getting to the destination.

Yesterday I came across the post above and it just made things click. The post essentially wants to give the message that we can be and feel things which may be seen as contradictory or alternative to each other. We are capable of being and feeling more than one thing at the same time independently of each other. Our experiences and our lives can also be perceived using this thinking pattern. its not always black and white. The things we feel, go through and experience are different and have multiple outcomes. I researched more into this and found that this way of thinking is called spectrum thinking. The opposite of binary thinking.

Binary Thinking:  A system of thought that considers things in an “either, or”, “right, wrong”, “black, white” way, dismissing differences and consideration of third or more alternatives.

Spectrum Thinking: Spectrum thinking considers multiple options, alternatives, and possibilities that sit in the grey zone.

There have been times where I have felt by setting a boundary with someone, I became the “villain”. There are times when even as an extrovert I’ve had phases of feeling extremely inward and introvert. Or I’ve had the worst day, and everything has gone wrong, but the smallest thing has turned the day around massively. In this sense, if life was black and white; setting boundaries means you are a bad person, being an extrovert means you can’t be shy or quiet, and having a bad day means the whole day has to follow suit. We know that the latter doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does it mean an extrovert can’t be an introvert. We know that being happy doesn’t mean you can’t be sad. Being strong doesn’t mean you can’t be sensitive. Everything we are and could be, everything we feel can be on a spectrum, rather than one or the other.

Having a binary perspective seems limiting and dangerous because it doesn’t allow room for growth, for things that don’t follow the ‘this is how life should be’ rule. Yes, maybe as a society we do strongly have a ‘should be, could be’ mentality but in reality we all know life throw lemons at us at the most inconvenient times and so nothing is ever as it ‘should’ve, could’ve, would’ve been. An example of how binary thinking can be limiting is jumping to conclusions without considering other options. Maybe your friend hasn’t texted you back, this doesn’t always mean they are ignoring you. They could be busy, going through a hard time, or they simply just want some space. Having an argument with your friend does not have to mean you have to cut them off now. Your friendship should not be based on agreeing with each other all the time. Understanding you both bring something different to the friendship and that sometimes you disagree. Thinking friends can’t have arguments or disagreements, is binary thinking. Most of the time it is our own insecurities that we project onto other people without realising, that cause issues rather than the person themselves.

I do feel there is an obsessive need to always categorise, label, compartmentalise things that don’t follow a ‘norm’. Things that we do not understand do not have to feel threatening. There was a time when a person’s sexual orientation could only be heterosexual. That didn’t mean that other sexual classifications didn’t exist. They have always existed, but it wasn’t recognised or accepted. Excluding concepts just because we don’t want to accept them is harmful. Today, we understand that sexuality, mental health and disability all come on a spectrum. Similarly, our lived experiences and outcomes are also on a spectrum.

Categorizing and oversimplifying complex concepts and problems is dangerous because all the nuances are ignored and excluded. It can divide people and reduce people down to a set of arbitrary variables. It is exclusive, and it can lead to extremism. In other contexts, binary thinking might help one to think clearly. For example, in maths or where there are definite right and wrong answers. I am in no position to say either one is right or wrong. There are pros and cons to both types of thinking and occasionally both ways of thinking may help with the perception of things. However, our human lives are so complex, we are so unique and beautifully different, it feels wrong to categorise and box ourselves off.

I fear binary thinking may be a retaliation towards concepts we don’t understand, and it can lead to being ignorant. I wanted to write this post to just drop a seed of thought that not everything in life has to be perceived in a binary way. Its ok to be where your at, feeling what your feeling without having to categorise it. It’s important to understand that you can think in different ways, feel things contradictory to each other. In terms of dealing with emotions, a lot of us can be too hard on ourselves and reject our feelings by thinking we couldn’t possibly feel like this because of XYZ. You feel how you feel and that’s that. When it comes to emotions we might apply binary thinking because we are so conditioned to thinking that way.

Society is heavily based on binary thinking. For example, if you don’t do well in school, don’t achieve a high grade you won’t get a good job and earn a good salary. How well you do in life might depend on education to an extent, the rest depends on you, your goals and your determination. People do well in life regardless of any qualifications.

Ultimately, we all have different perceptions and lived experiences; we all view things differently. Just like binary and spectrum thinking, there are fixed mindsets and growth mindsets. It’s up to you how you choose to believe and perceive things, but it doesn’t mean that’s the only way. Challenging binary thinking is necessary. Challenging the way binary thinking is used on social media, in the news and and within our own thought processes is necessary. We must learn to filter the things we are fed and come to our own conclusions.


Creds: https://ozchen.com/binary-vs-spectrum-thinking/ @thepresentpsychologist

2 Replies to “Spectrum vs Binary Perspectives.”

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