Dresses and Air-Balls: Logical Humility in a Black-and-White World


Two weeks ago it was a dress.  Some people claimed it was blue and black; others claimed it was white and gold.  So, who was right?

This afternoon it was a basketball shot.  Some people claimed it was goal-tending and celebrated the victory; others claimed it was an air-ball and mourned the loss.  So, who was right?
In both cases, the arguments played out all over the internet, on television, around water coolers and in living rooms.  Like most debates in contemporary society, everyone becomes an instant expert, offering their opinions verbally and digitally through such logically-persuasive means as the ever-conclusive “meme.” 
 
So, was the dress blue and black or was it white and gold?  And what about that shot?  Did the referee make the correct call by calling it goal-tending or was it clearly going to be an air-ball had it not been touched?
Yes.
Yes?
Yes.
But what do we do with “yes?”  We don’t like “yes.”  We want an answer.  Either it’s true or it’s false, right?  Not always.
Without going too deep into a conversation about Aristotelian logic, the fallacy of the excluded middle, or what “fuzzy logic” is, I simply want to point out that there are times in life when “truth” is not as black and white as we would like it be (or as black and white as those guys who wear the black and white stripes would like it to be!).  Often, we find ourselves in situations that are messier than the categories that we’ve set up to understand our experience.  When we can’t fit the grey experiences of life into our black and white boxes, it leads to frustration and anxiety.
What if we learned to become comfortable with the fact that sometimes life offers two (or more) equally valid experiences or options?  Imagine the potential for political progress if politicians would legitimately acknowledge the valid aspects of opposing perspectives!  Unfortunately, the alternative with which we currently live is a system of black-and-white in which a politician is either completely in favor or vehemently opposed, forced by the dominance of the two-party system that predetermines an individual’s platform as soon as they declare themselves a member of this party or that.
Is it easy to consider a reality in which multiple truths may be simultaneously offered? No, because it requires humility.  How can I admit that someone else is right when I know that I am right?
Does this mean that there are not times in life when things are black and white?  Of course not.  In fact, the “greyness” of life may even constitute a minority of our experiences.  The danger of viewing the majority of life through a filter of grey is that it leads to a path of relativism, losing any notion of right and wrong all together.  
In most cases, people can generally agree on the colors of dresses.  In most cases, it’s generally clear whether a basketball goes through a hoop or not.  But we do damage to ourselves and to each other when we view all cases like “most cases” rather than viewing all cases as unique.  
Opening myself to the possibility that the person with whom I disagree may be equally right in their opinion fosters a healthy relationship of respect and vulnerability.  Imagine the impact that this type of logical humility could have in a family, in a workplace, in a neighborhood, in a church, or in a society.
Now, if only I could convince the NCAA to recognize the validity of my opinion that the UCLA shot was clearly an air-ball, maybe they could at least create a rematch…  #PonyUp
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