There’s something I find really troubling about American society. I know that’s how a lot of things you read on the internet begin, but this is about something I don’t see written about too much, so hopefully that first sentence will be the only cliche you’ll see. Geez, I’m setting a high bar for myself here.
Anyway, what worries me is that in a country that claims to be full of options, we often seems to only be offered two. Right or wrong, Christian or Muslim, Republican or Democrat, Bike or Scooter (The kids in that photo started beating eachother up after I took it). This dichotomization can be seen on every news show, heard in every conversation, and even felt in every inner struggle. It’s this kind of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality that can often get us into trouble.
There are 2 reasons I get so concerned when I hear someone talk in in this kind of black and white language. The first is fairly obvious: it is usually just boiling down a complex topic into a very simple one. I don’t think this really matters with soda brands, but you better believe it’s dangerous to do this with bigger issues on an individual, societal and ever other level.
Let’s take the issue of reproductive rights. There are people completely against abortion and people entirely for it sure, but those two camps are not where the majority of opinions lie. According to Gallup, 49% of people have opinions on abortion that rest somewhere in between, 36% believing that abortion should be allowed for a few situations, 13% think it should be allowed for most situations. When roughly half of public opinion rests somewhere in between the two sides, why the hell does it seem like there’s only two sides?
I can only guess at that answer, but I think we can all see the correlation between people who talk in absolutes, and people who are most passionate about what they have to say. Then when you factor in that the news and other media thrives off passion and high emotion, well you start to notice the fence posts so to speak.
I don’t have a problem with passion, in fact I think it’s great to see people with strong beliefs and morals. What I have a problem with is absolutes. This world is incredibly chaotic and to say that something should never be allowed or always be enforced is crazy to me. Pro-choice isn’t an absolute since it’s not advocating for ALL pregnancies to be terminated, it’s just advocating for more options for women should they desire an abortion. The argument for pro-life however is too absolute for me to ever agree with it though becasue it’s too absolute and only takes into account the perspectives of the supporters.
This obviously isn’t just the case for abortion. I hear this type of language in almost every policy debate but it’s also prevalent in our personal lives as well. Think about New Years resolutions: Vowing to never eat fast food again is a great goal, but it’s so difficult to keep. What if you’re at a rest stop and your only option for lunch is Roy Rogers? Are you really going to starve yourself for a resolution?
Probably not, and when you do eat that “Double R Bar-Be-Que” Burger with the large fries that come in a gun holster, you’re probably going to make yourself feel really guilty for breaking your vow. You might even feel so bad about feeling guilty that you’ll just give up on the vow since you’ve already broken it and go back to eating fast food every day. But think about this:
Would you have felt that guilt if your resolution was to eat less fast food?
This is what absolutes do to us. There’s nothing wrong with setting harsh goals or having a strong set of ethics, but when we don’t leave leave room in them for change we can really give ourselves more problems than we deserve.
So next time you find yourself arguing your stance on an issue or setting a goal for yourself, notice if you’re talking in absolutes. if so, never do that again.
Thanks for reading! You may have noticed I wrote dichotomization concerns me for 2 reasons but I only wrote about one. That’s because I wanted to save the other reason for another essay I’ve been working on that’s going to be more about the American political climate. That should be coming out soon, so be on the lookout!
The part on reproductive rights was largely inspired by John Oliver’s story on the issue in his amazing show Last Week Tonight.
If you want to read more about how to avoid absolutism and dichotomization in your personal life, check out Donald Miller’s story over at Relevent Magazine called The Problem With Black-and-White. Miller has a talent at making every one of his words carry weight which is something I’m trying to get better at.
I’d love to hear what people think about my posts. Feel free to comment if you get inspired!