Black or White
If I had to pick just one of the changes I made after The Big Collapse of 2015 (when I started having panic attacks on the reg.) that had the most profound impact on my life now, I would say dealing with my black and white mentality.
No one has asked me to pick just one of these changes.
No one has asked me about any of this, actually, but still, if they did, I’d pick that whole black and white thing.
Things, in my mind, want to fall into one of two categories: black or white. Right or wrong. Left or right.
My thoughts, left to their own devices, find comfort in categorizing things thusly. And it’s with an impressive rigidity that I will hold on to any belief for which I have placed in its respective category.
You wouldn’t even believe the size of the horse blinders I wear when I’ve dug my heels in on my categories.
Or maybe you would believe it. Most of us do this. I mean, I know you say you’re saying you don’t, but, you do. It’s the way we’re designed to an extent. Our brains are as attracted to categorizing things as Snooki is attracted to leopard print.
Now it doesn’t always have to end up as dualistic as my thoughts want to be, but a lot of times it just does. Especially when fear is involved.
Stay with me.
Say you’re being chased by a tiger. You’ve gotta make some quick decisions, right? There’s no time to sit around wondering if the tiger has gotten a bad rap and maybe doesn’t want to eat you. It does, and you need to make some snap decisions.
The thing is that these days we’re not often eaten by tigers. Our “tigers” are now parent meet-ups and our bosses and money and sexuality and politics. That is to say, things that have a wide spectrum of hooks on which to hang our little opinionated hats.
It’s the fear. The fear of being excluded from something, or the fear of changes to the rules that govern our lives as our parents explained them to us, or the fear of allowing someone to live their life as free as we want ours to be, which keeps us - all of us, myself being front and center of this little parade - absurdly far from the generosity of spirit we all pride ourselves on having toward others.
And that fear, and the lack of generosity as an unhappy consequence, that turns us into the rigid, stone-hearted, monsters we accuse the folks on the other side of the color spectrum of being.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes all of this...the weight of trying to figure myself out and trying to make sense of the world...feels crazy-making. Like, I need a break and would just love to have my doctor find me a lovely Airbnb with a cute little padded room to think in.
But as my friend Gabby sagely says during times like this, “Being an asshole is not a mental health diagnosis.”
So here I am, having to deal with the consequences of the crap that spews out of my mouth when I’m scared and have a lack of imagination.
And that’s what my compulsion to put things into their little polarized boxes is...it’s a lack of imagination. That imagination deficiency has left us blind, and that blindness is only cured through curiosity.
To dip a toe into the waters of The Other Side, one must invent another story. Is it possible that the other thing isn’t so far away? Does it have to be a “one or the other” scenario? Could it ever be “both/and”?
Imagination always takes a curiosity.
Now don't get me wrong, both/and’ing is hard. It makes you feel vulnerable, like, all the time. And for most of us, the word vulnerability is synonymous with weakness.
Who taught us that? The way I see it (and I promise I’m not alone here, because you know for damn sure I don’t have the cognitive availability to think this shit up on my own), to think in black or white terms is to only have the capacity to understand things as they are, in comparison to a stark opposition to the way you think you should feel.
That is to say (because I just confused myself), if you’re a black and white kinda guy like me, your brain will only process the black because you’re spending all your time thinking how much you hate the white.
Here’s an example: You may not have liked Trump, but you *hated* Hillary. Therefore, the opposite of her must be right.
Let’s not dwell on this, because we’re getting it from all sides, and I just #canteven with politics any more. But just one quick thing since we’re here...
We’re a country that takes risks. That’s like, our “thing.” We invented the car. We put a man on the moon. We’ve kept The Bachelor on air for 85 seasons. Taking risks means that we’re going to make mistakes. The beauty of who we think we are is that projected image of how we dust ourselves off all the time, and become born anew to be a better us...a better U.S.
But to dust ourselves off, it implies that we’ve fallen.
And we’ll somehow never admit that we’ve landed with our face in the dirt. We never, ever, admit to the fall. We’d just rather be the victim to someone else’s agenda than own up to making a mistake, and use curiosity to hoist ourselves back up to being the country we pretend to be.
On a more intimate level, as it turns out there’s no measuring stick or big weighted scales in life to judge us. We’re allowed to make a mistake without the hand of God coming down to slap us across our overly beautiful faces.
We’re allowed to be confused and we’re allowed to try. We’re allowed to start on one end of the spectrum, ask some questions, and end up somewhere in the middle. This culture of choosing a side (as if there’s only one, ever), has done nothing for us.
We’re allowed to think we’ll never vaccinate our kids, then change our minds later. We’re allowed to breastfeed sometimes, and bottle feed other times. We’re allowed to be socially liberal and financially conservative. You’re allowed to be liberal and feel weird about immigration. You’re allowed to be conservative and feel that this recent immigration thing is not in line with your values.
We’re allowed to root for the Dolphins when they play the Patriots, because the Giants just don’t play every weekend.
[This is what’s called a supportive lesbian comment. I don’t understand #thesports, but my gal says I’m a Giants fan now, and that this analogy will make sense. Go #sports.]
My point is, you’re allowed to give yourself slack in your leash to get curious about things, and you’re allowed to make mistakes in making choices. We’re given that grace if we make a better choice next time.
Avoiding both/and and sticking with black and white means something else too - it means that we probably believe deep down that we’re also unworthy of anything other than black and white thoughts from others. We probably were taught things were good or bad...that *we* were good or bad...and that there was nothing in between. We probably believe that we’re unworthy of that aforementioned grace, eh?
If you think you’re unworthy of anything other than the black and white lense you’re accustomed to looking at things through, you’ll never see yourself as anything other than unworthy.
We’ll get there, if we practice.
That’s a giant Royal We, by the by. I am a black or white’r through and through.
Let me tell you from experience, it really is the practice of getting curious, seeing what works, then backing up and taking another road, that helps build up a resilience against falling into the old pattern of what our brain thinks it was designed to do.
It’s deciding that we’re worth the risk to see a full color spectrum, rather than just the blacks and/or the whites.
So, out of curiosity, is there something you could ask a question about something today to get you more into the colors?