February 14th bathing in the dawning sun watching ducks drift by — no wind, no gloves, open jacket. Uneasy with this climate change I still soaked it up.
Imagine insisting on a choice between wind or water, sun or rain, leaf or bark? Ridiculous choices. Yet most of the yes/no dichotomies we create would appear just as ridiculous if we stepped back to provide emotional space around them.
Mahomes or Brady? LeBron or Michael? Serena or — Serena is the only one. Why, oh why, do we have such debates?
We love the word “or” but did you know that it can be a symptom of cognitive distortion? According to Harvard Health Publishing, cognitive distortions are “internal mental filters or biases…Our brains are continually processing lots of information. To deal with this, our brains seek shortcuts to cut down our mental burden.”
In other words, our brains get a little lazy and set up false dichotomies from which we only have to choose one thing over another. It’s easier than untangling the many elements at play in any given situation. It also keeps us from having to hold more than one truth at one and the same time.
“It’s this way, not that!” In fact, it may be both “this and that” at once, but embracing such a reality means listening to several competing voices while accepting that each one has some nugget of truth or wisdom to contribute. Ugh, that is mentally exhausting. No wonder the brain reaches for an easy answer.
Black Lives Matter or Back the Blue. Now there is a perfect example of a widespread cognitive distortion in the public mind. It would require very little cognitive activity (thinking and reasoning) to push beyond landing in an emotional reaction for just one or the other. Yet many prefer to hang onto only one rather than recognize how the primary issues in each can be true at one and the same time.
My faith or heresy. Another cognitive distortion. Either it is what I believe, and what my religion believes, or it is against what I believe and therefore wrong. If I am right then you are wrong, and if you are right I must be wrong. Embracing the possibility that both of us have a piece of the puzzle threatens the absolute dichotomy we construct for the world. Consequently, I must resist your faith, or absence of faith, as if a threat to mine.
When “or” becomes the primary mode of decision-making our reasoning capacity has become mired in an emotional bog. Rather than using our thinking skills to investigate the relationships between the sometimes competing and sometimes complementary elements that actually exist within the field of any decision, we jump to one thing or the other. Either/or. It streamlines the process and moves us quickly beyond the discomfort, anguish, and anxiety of holding them all at once.
Liberal or Conservative, Progressive or MAGA? These are the social silos of cognitive distortion. They are emotionally satisfying filters that in fact distort how we see the world and make decisions. The more all-encompassing the ideology the greater the distortion.
Chiefs or Eagles? Bills or Bengals? More of the same, but mostly a harmless retreat for tired brains so long as we don’t take them too seriously. Weird that all this came to me while watching ducks.
Jim Sargent says
And of course, It’s emerging that “both this and that”may be the fundamental reality as evidenced in quantum mechanics. It, as God, is a Mystery, as a friend of mine once said. Letting ourselves go into that Mystery, that IS-ness, to quote Van Morrison, may be salvation from our existential pains of being human.
But you know and have expressed that many times much better than I
Thanks for you thoughts, guidance and presence.
Cam Miller says
Hey, that is said pretty doggone well! Thanks.
Tim Long, Just Up the Hill from Lock 15 says
I ‘spect that’s why the prophet didn’t say, “Do justice!; Or, Love mercy!; Or, Walk humbly with God!; Or, Whatever…” And, gosh, Fr. Cam, I’ve nearly given up trying to have an in-depth conversation, or even a response, to the person at church, or at the grocery, who spouts off with something like “I don’t know what they do with all my taxes! And they shoulda plowed the snow and put salt down instead of brine! Why, I woulda….” Think I’ll work on a one sentence response, or question that might elicit some thoughtfulness instead. You’re right. It’s just not wanting to bother to consider anything longer than a Tweet; ie, lazy. Thanks for poking me into more thoughtful consideration. Again.
Cam Miller says
Hope the poke didn’t hurt!