Black or White Thinking

I recently had an experience with someone who is a very black or white thinker. In their world it either ‘is’ or it ‘isn’t.’ To me that is a tough way to live especially when interacting with other people. It can lead to a lot of frustration. I’ve read that frustration occurs when someone does not meet our expectations. Think about it, how can a total stranger frustrate us when we don’t even know them or their motives? Easy, when their act of changing lanes or blocking an aisleway is not what we expected them to do. Antonio Banderas said; “Expectation is the mother of all frustration.”

One cannot coach with a black or white attitude. Managers can be this way as they typically manage against a norm. Coaches or leaders work to inspire others to achieve a higher performance level, which requires seeing what is there, what is possible and how small steps can get us to that level. Managers are very good at maintaining the status quo while adding stability and order. Leaders are very good at stirring people’s emotions, raising their expectations, and taking them in new directions. Black or white thinkers expect the other person to do everything to meet their vision. John Bevere said, “Often we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions.”

As a coach, mentor, or leader, we need to be shining a light on the path for others, not a judge who see their shortcomings. A model for others to emulate, not a critic. Black or white thinkers often complain about their frustrations to the point of whining. I get needing to vent, as I do it myself in private with a confident, not in the public’s view – let alone on social media. The way I look at it is, stop whining and figure out what to do about it. Black or white thinkers are good at identifying a problem without bringing a solution to the table.

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” – Earl Nightingale

I am involved in awarding college scholarships to graduating High School seniors and while recently discussing the evaluation process, came to realize that a strictly quantitative analysis is black or white – how does the application stack against the norm. Although that is the most efficient way to evaluate it isn’t likely the fairest. Is a ‘non book smart’ student planning on attending a trade school who busted his butt for a 2.9 GPA, less worthy than a student who has a 4.0 but rarely studies because it comes easy? Same with the student who has 1/3 the Service Hours of another but his involvement is much deeper, longer and stronger than just accumulating hours?

Businesses that manage to policies and numbers as opposed to people and nuances, can be very short-sighted. Results matter in business, as they do in life, but when the focus is solely on results, things like morale and job satisfaction tend to decline quickly. Leading at a higher level is the process of achieving worthwhile results while acting with respect, care, and fairness for the well-being of all involved. A coach that berates a player to get him to perform at a higher level may have a short-term win but loses that player’s trust.

Black or white thinkers seem to excel in working inside-the-box but seldom deliver fundamental change. Theirs is a rigid way of thinking and narrow perspective; a tendency to see things in neat little categories – such as “good or bad”, “right or wrong”, “always or never”, or “with us or against us”. These are examples of using extreme opposite positions that polarize or solidify one’s thinking. Decisions or opinions should not be founded on a rigid position. When we choose to view or describe things in a narrow or extreme perspective, we ignore the nuances. We become labelers. Labels replace the harder work of understanding and substantive thinking. It’s a lot easier to land somewhere simple and stay there. It requires less energy.

This “either/or” thinking needs absolute answers, certainty. Sometimes, it means deciding before having all the facts and seeing the situation from all perspectives. It can create an unrealistic, predetermined path. Rigid thinking does not allow for empathy or stepping into another’s shoes to see their point of view. Recognizing ‘shades of gray’ treats people with more respect. When people are listened to, they feel more valued. “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” – Harlan Ellison

Black or white thinking makes judging others easy. Love doesn’t judge. Jesus was sent as our savior not our judge. Scripture has much to say about judging:
– Matthew 7:1-2 – “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”
– Luke 6:37 – “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
– Romans 14:13 – “Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
– 1 Corinthians 4:5 – “Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.
– James 4:11 – “Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

Although it is the more difficult path, let’s be the shining light that takes people in new directions and stirs their emotions. We have the benchmark of Jesus’ teaching and God’s grace and compassion as our source of motivation. We need to always recognize the nuances for a spirit of generosity and real understanding.

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