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KEMBURU: We ought to accept life in gray area, reject binary thinking

Opinion Column: An Optimist's Opinion

Since we were children, we have learned to understand and think of the world in a binary sense. We are constantly surrounded by dichotomies: good and evil, real and imaginary, etc. In fact, one of the first things that we ask when we want to get to know someone is the question, are you an introvert or an extrovert? 

Now, most people I know answer the question within a split second, and they typically choose the one that most likely sounds like them, even if they are not 100 percent sure that is who they are. The truth is, most humans fall somewhere in the middle, and most likely display characteristics of both an introvert and an extrovert. It is almost ridiculous to say that someone only gains their energy from being alone or that someone only gains their energy from social interaction. Between half and two-thirds of the human population are ambiverts, but not many people know of this third option or choose to characterize themselves as it. Introversion and extroversion are abstract concepts that exist on a spectrum, with each on opposite ends.

The question here is: Is the world binary, or does it exist on a spectrum? And if — for the most part — it does exist on a spectrum, then why are we taught otherwise? Why are we pushed to say that we are introverts or extroverts rather than somewhere in the middle? The straightforward answer to almost all of these questions is the fact that understanding the world to be binary is just easier. It simplifies the world around us and makes it easier for us to make decisions and process such abstract ideas. Living in a world of binary thinking gives us a sort of emotional security blanket. We know our options — there are only two of them — and we have picked the one that we identify with the most. 

A topic in which this perspective of world is especially prevalent and problematic is abortion. When anyone hears that word, the first thing that they think of are the two positions: pro-choice or pro-life. It is either one or the other, with no in-between. But when a series of polls were done to understand the American public’s true opinion on abortion, the results showed that their opinion existed on more of a spectrum than a double-sided coin. It was found that 60 percent of Americans support abortion in the first trimester, but support drops significantly for abortions in the second (28 percent) and third (13 percent) trimester, according to National Public Radio.

So far, I have established that people’s views of abortion and individual personality types both exist on a spectrum. You may be wondering why these concepts are of any importance or why this conversation is of any importance. This is because this mindset affects something that affects almost everyone in American politics. 

Currently, the basis of American politics is a two-party system, as it has been since the 1850s. Each side has differing views and opinions on a variety of matters, one of which is abortion. The problem with this two-party system is the way in which it has divided the American people. Individuals often identify themselves with the party whose policies they most agree with, but when they become affiliated with one party, that is not all that happens. People begin to view the other party as a “threat to the nation,” and dehumanize it and its values. People become less willing to listen to what the other side has to say, and instead become more preoccupied with what interests them. This lack of ability to listen, and therefore to compromise, is in my opinion what has led to the longest government shutdown America has ever seen.  

With a seemingly complex problem in which the root can be found deep within human nature, it can be daunting to try and even think of a solution for binary thinking. Here is my take on it all: We must think critically of the world around us and challenge ourselves to not stick to the binary. We must understand that there is so much more to humans than one-word labels, and that our beliefs cannot be encapsulated within those one-word labels. We must try to understand those with opposing viewpoints and listen. 

“The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored, between males and females, lies in healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts," said Gloria Anzaldúa.

Anusha Kemburu is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in political science. Her column, “An Optimist’s Opinion,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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