During my senior year of high school, I took a psychology course called AP psychology.
For those of you not familiar with the American high school system, AP psychology is a college (university) level course. It is offered to high school students who would like to challenge themselves, and earn college credits in the process.
This was my first intro to psychology and I have been in love with the subject ever since.
One of the very first lessons I learned in this course was that humans aren’t either mentally ill or not. Instead, we all have a certain degree of illness (depression, schizophrenia, OCD), and whether we get labeled as mentally ill or not, depends on the degree of illness one displays.
In other words, psychologists and psychiatrists don’t ask: Is this person ill or not? Instead, they try to answer the question: how ill is this person?
It didn’t take me long to draw a parallel between how mental health patients get diagnosed and how life works.
Too often, I come across people who see life (as I used to) as a ‘black or white’ kind of thing.
I talk with friends and family members and they wonder: am I pretty or ugly? Is the world good or bad? does my boss suck or not?
Why we do it?
Before we talk about how this kind of worldview can be detrimental to someone’s life, it’s important to understand why we do it.
Personally, I believe we do it because it’s easy. Plain and simple.
Our brain evolved to make quick decisions.
Back in our hunting days, humans had to make quick decisions in order to survive in a world in which most choices we made, could lead us to either find food or be eaten.
Overtime, we developed this brain that is excellent at making quick, snap decisions, with little room for nuanced thought.
Making quick decisions is instinctive, which is easier to do than overriding this ‘default mode’ and thinking through situations.
Back in our hunting days, this quick thinking brain helped us survive in the wild.
Today, the same brain is making us less happy.
Our quick thinking brain is leading us to believe that we’re either pretty or ugly, that the world is either good or
It negatively affects how we judge ourselves, others and the world around us.
How we judge ourselves.
Having a ‘black vs white’ worldview can negatively affect how we think of ourselves, which can lead to lower self-esteem and a host of other problems associated with it.
If you can only choose between being pretty or ugly, and you believe for example that only celebrities are pretty, it puts you in somewhat of a pickle.
Thinking we’re ugly or not pretty enough can negatively affect us.
It can lead us to settle for life partners simply because we believe it’s “the best we can do”.
This can lead some of us to live a life spent around people who make us unhappy, simply because we falsely believe we can’t do better.
How we judge others.
Imagine driving down a busy highway. You’re late for work, so you’re thinking about your boss giving you a hard time when you get to your desk.
Out of nowhere, a red Golf GTI cuts you off.
What’s the first thought that might come to your mind? I know. If you’re like most people, you’d probably thinking: ‘What a prick!!!’
Now ask yourself this question: Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had to cut someone off? Again, if you’re like most people, you probably have.
Are you a prick for cutting those people off when you had/needed to? Of course not.
To be fair, most of us probably know that cutting someone off doesn’t make you a prick.
The problem arises when we make those snap decisions and don’t think twice about it.
We hear about a scandal involving a politician and we make the snap judgment that the person is evil.
Over time, we get into the habit of labeling others we meet or hear about as either good or evil. Once we label someone or a group of people as evil, all kindness goes out the window.
How we judge the world around us
Making snap judgment about the world we live in can negatively impact our emotional well-being.
Our quick thinking brain often leads us to believe that the world is either this heavenly place where nothing evil rarely ever happens, or that it is this hell-ish sphere where everything goes to die.
Neither option is good. Nor is it accurate.
Thinking of the earth as heaven makes you vulnerable to the painful realization that humans can be tyrannical.
Likewise, thinking of the earth as a hellish place could negatively impact how you think of the world.
Neither option is positive and could lead
The world is a much more complex mix of both unbelievably evil acts,
It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around how the two extremes exist at the same time. I believe it is one of the reasons too many of us choose to believe it’s either one or the other.
The solution is that we have to constantly remind our brain that the world isn’t black and white.
Before I continue, let me acknowledge that most people probably already know that.
The problem is that with our busy lives constantly bombarded with bills, bad news, kids, meetings, work, yoga, life balance
As we do, we revert back to our instinct; our quick thinking, reactive brain.
There is no greater example of this than the current outrage culture we live in.
One person incorrectly accuses black teenagers of crimes, refuses to rent to black people, believes countries with black people are “shitholes” & tries to question the legimacy of the first US black president: People think that this person is racist and they should resign.
Another person wore a black face ONCE in their 20s: People think this person is also racist and they should resign. Really?
If we use the ‘black and white’ worldview to judge these two individuals, the first person is bad and the second is good.
However, we all know it’s usually more complex than just good and bad. More accurately, the two
As I said, with the world constantly bombarding us with
Why grayscale worldview
There are two main reasons to adopt this kind of worldview if you have not done so already, or constantly be reminded of it if you already abide by it.
1. It is a more accurate worldview
As I mentioned earlier, this ‘grayscale worldview’ is more accurate than its ‘black vs white’ counterpart.
You can see this displayed in the way we diagnose mental illnesses as I mentioned earlier.
In a more concrete example, you can see this in action in most justice systems around the world. Not all crimes are the same. People aren’t either criminals or not.
Crimes come in a varying degrees of severity.
Stealing a yogurt from a grocery store is a less severe crime than robbing a bank. Robbing a bank is a less severe crime than accidentally killing someone (manslaughter). Manslaughter is a less severe crime than premeditated murder, and so on.
2. It will make you happier
In the example above, where you can only choose between pretty and ugly, if you are not pretty (supposedly like celebrities), then you are ugly.
However, if you have a ‘grayscale worldview’, you get to choose between at least less pretty, pretty and prettier. In this case, though you may not be in the ‘prettier’ category, you could find comfort in knowing you look prettier than those in the ‘less pretty’ category.
The best part about this way of thinking about yourself and the world is that it will make you feel better about/happier with yourself, and it is the more accurate way of viewing the world, and yourself.
How to do it
As I said earlier, I believe most people probably already have a grayscale worldview.
The problem is that in too many instances, we forget to apply the principles of this worldview when we argue with others, when we judge ourselves, or when we judge the world around us.
Think of it like eating healthy. We all know we should do it. But with our busy lives filled with kids, work, friends, family, projects, working out, it’s easy to go for the convenience of McDonald’s and other fast foods.
When life happens, we have to constantly remind ourselves to exercise self-care and go for the healthier options, no matter how much more inconvenient they might be.
Likewise, we have to constantly remind ourselves that there are always more solutions. There are always different shades of gray in every situation we find ourselves in, in every person we have to judge, and with each time we have to judge ourselves.
Think of it like a mental health workout. Our mind is always trying revert back to our instincts, and go for the easier option (black vs white worldview). We have to fight these instincts and put more effort into seeing our world, others and ourselves, as nuanced as we all are.
Having a nuanced view of the world is a more accurate way to and kind way to view the world.
Moreover, this ‘grayscale worldview’ of the world, ourselves and others, can help us be more confident, be kinder to those around us and find more happiness in this world.
If you have not tried it already, be sure to try it in your next argument with someone, or with your next assessment of yourself. If you have, be sure to constantly remind yourself of it every chance you get. You’ll be happier in the long-run.