Last weekend, as I was driving home from my Drew lesson, I listened to an episode of Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vedantam. I’m so glad I did, because the story he shared, gently and neutrally, made the point that I’ve been slowly and painfully trying to articulate for the past few years:
I’ve always been deeply aware that circumstances are rarely black and white. No one’s all good or all evil. No form of government is all bad or all good. No religion is perfect or all bad. You get my drift and may even agree.
But what this episode, “Both Things Can Be True,” clarified for me is that while it is much easier to see people only one way, it is entirely possible to hold two completely conflicting views of someone. The woman in the story comes to see an important person in her life as both someone who saved her life and betrayed her. She could be both grateful and angry. And that allowed her to reach peace.
The ability to do this is called integrative complexity, which is not a new concept, but was new to me. That’s what has let me cope a little better with the complexities in my own life (sparing you the details).
Good news: studies have shown that people who grasp integrative complexity are more likely to succeed in life. That makes sense to me. You’re more open to connections and possibilities.
From what I observe, though, not many people are into the complexity thing. It’s easier to over generalize.
I see it so often where someone fucks up and the people around them switch from seeing them as good and label them as evil. It’s happened in my family, both to me and to someone I care deeply about. I see it, too, when people declare all Republicans or Democrats are evil, all Christians or Muslims are extremists, all police officers are corrupt…etc.
No wonder there’s so much divisiveness. Black and white thinking is just easier.
I am so tired of that bullshit.
It’s not easy to let go of ingrained patterns of belief. Don’t I know it! But integrative complexity is, I think, exactly what is needed to create a world where people can work together to solve the real problems of the world…once we accept that solutions, too, are not all black and white.