We can’t solve complex problems using black & white thinking. Human beings are not black & white. We’re complex. The systems we’ve designed are even more complex.
We don’t feel comfortable with the unknown variables in the sea of grey that is the reality of our lives. But we better start to embrace the grey. Grey is all we got.
How many times have we heard someone spout an obvious “solution” to a deep social problem? You’ve heard them. Maybe you’ve even said some of them. Things like:
“Just get a job.”
“Just stop drinking.”
“Just eat less.”
“Just think happy thoughts.”
“Just fire them.”
“Just send them home.”
If we reduce complex problems into simple, dualistic ones, we get a momentary endorphin rush in our brains. It feels good to be on the “right” side of a right-wrong argument. And make no mistake, if we’re thinking in black-white terms, we’re thinking right-wrong.
Black-white leaves no room or opportunity for nuance or shades of grey. It leaves no opportunity for negotiation or problem-solving or collaboration, the very things that our world so desperately needs.
But that temporary rush is addictive. We crave it. Our belief that we have the solution makes us feel safe and secure in our unsafe world, and we all want to feel safe. We want that feeling of safety so much, in fact, that some of our brains refuse to even acknowledge the grey, let alone explore it. We hunker down in our homes and we pick a side. The “right” side. And that, my friends, right there, is the cause of every conflict in the world.
It’s time for us to sit down as complex humans and have a conversation about what really matters and how to do it in a way that works for the whole. It’s time to stop ripping ourselves down the middle and claiming half of the bloody mess is “wrong”.
If we want our society and our governments to honour our complexity, let’s start by doing that in our own brains, and in our own homes with our families, with our friends and co-workers, and with people we don’t even know. Let’s eradicate our either-or thinking by being willing to surrender what we think we know in favour of exploring what we might not know. Let’s have compassion for the complexity that is us, and work with the many shades of beautiful grey that we are.