The value of a non-binary outlook

We’re binary creatures who like to think in absolutes:
Yes / No.
Black / White.
In group / Out group.

It’s an easier way to think about the world. Once we categorise something, we tend to fix it in position. That way, we don’t have to spend time and brain resources re-classifing it each time we encounter it.

If that plant is safe to eat today, let’s assume it will be safe to eat tomorrow.

If our Alice is trustworthy today, let’s assume she will be trustworthy tomorrow.

Since there are only two options, there has to be a pretty fundamental shift in circumstances for something to switch. And we’d notice something that fundamental. Wouldn’t we?

A binary outlook helps us to reduce the ongoing burden of thinking, but that comes at a cost. It means we fail to account for the fact that most things exist on a spectrum. And they shift. Constantly.

That plant isn’t always safe to eat.

Jill isn’t always trustworthy.

Having a binary perspective also blinds us to lessons which we need to relearn.

We “know” that family is important.

We “know” that exercise is good for our health.

Our binary outlook would tell us that these are things we know, principles we value. But our actions might betray a deeper truth. We know something intellectually, but we haven’t yet realised that knowledge. We haven’t put it into practice. We haven’t made it real.

Or, more likely, we’ve been overtaken by circumstance and have forgotten what we “know”.

The pressure has mounted at work and the importance of family or excercise or eating well has receded into the background.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the moment and for our knowledge to become difficult to access. When pressured or stressed we can forget what we know and act out of character.

This is why it’s important we keep a non-binary view of our knowledge and beliefs. Because our knowledge (like most things) exists on a constantly-shifting spectrum. Because there are lessons which we need to re-learn over and over and over again. Because knowing something is a continual process, it’s training.

We need to remind ourselves of things we already know. We need to re-learn lessons and move our knowledge up the spectrum towards being realised.

The more we can adopt a non-binary outlook, the more successful we will be in navigating a world which refuses to conform to fixed binary notions of black and white.