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  • Binary Thinking?! Something You have to Know

    Post by : expatree

East meets West: is binary thinking the only way to see reality?

Binary thinking stems from an ancestral way of thinking, it leads us to consider reality in terms of duality, putting elements into opposition, dividing issues into two extremes. This presents us with a number of thought provoking questions: In which context is this way of reasoning relevant? When and how can it limit us? How can one see further while integrating this approach together with others, in order to consider reality in all its complexity?
What is binary thinking?

This traditional way of thinking has its origins in the observation of the world, a world made of oppositions (day/night, man/woman, evil/devil etc). Aristote and Descartes were the first ones to structure this logic consisting of dividing, distinguishing and opposing items. In binary thinking, there is no in-between; all is black or white, good or bad, nice or ugly. It is the law of “all or nothing”, something is perfect or …should not be.
What remains of binary thinking in our lives?

As Westerners we have all been more or less imprinted with this way of thinking. It can be felt in our everyday lives, when we make decisions (Christine M., 54 years old, is a lawyer living in Belgium: “my husband is offered a position abroad, should I follow him or stay?”), but also when parenting (Valérie, 37 year-old-freelancer, to her daughter « you either eat your dinner or you go to bed!”). Same thinking can be seen in companies, where managers sometimes totally dissociate human and technical issues; they even sometimes have to ask for external professional help to manage internal conflicts. Significant of this is the low number of human resources top managers represented in the Comex team, as if technical and human performances were completely independent, just like sales and HR objectives.
Binary thinking: attention danger!

Bipolar - or binary - thinking can show be legitimate and useful in numerous cases, like for example when resolving technical issues, when there is a need    for more structure, when setting priorities or when one needs to get a quick global picture at an instant. Charles, 42 years old is managing director for Asia of a software company: « I am a French trained in the US and I fully realize that my binary thinking education can be of help in the short term, it helps me get a quick clear picture and rapidly set a goal and get to the point. But my various work experiences both in Japan and China have taught me to consider things in a more Asian perspective if I wish to think of the business in the longer term”. Binary thinking therefore has inherent limits and, brought to an extreme, it can also prove to be dangerous, as testified by the horrors of the “ultra-solutions” or of Nazism.

One must therefore be cautious and binary thinking deserves to evolve to a more circular approach, which incorporates some contextual elements. Why is this so? Because our vision of the world is only our vision of the world and our reality can only be subjective.

And as difficult as it can be, being conscious of this is essential to widen one’s scope of life. Various elements account for this difficulty: our education, our habits, our need to be in control, our lack of flexibility or our lack of time…In such a context, scare, need for security or lack of confidence in oneself and/or in others can lead to us sticking to our old habits and get back to our comfortable binary approach.
Our challenge is therefore to be able to see beyond this “all or nothing” and “me or him” logic to move forward a way of thinking that can be more fruitful for our lives and our decision-making process.
Becoming aware that we act in a binary way is a first step, the next one is whether or not we want to take action and change our behavior. Because reality is indeed always more complex and richer than what our perception of the world suggests.
"If we don’t change our way of thinking, we will not be able to solve the problems that we create ourselves with our current ways of thinking", Albert Einstein.

By ActiveExpatCoaching
Date:2012-12-06 11:52:40
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