It’s Just Not That Simple, People!


Photo by Dean Hochman, via Flickr

Sometimes I think you guys must get tired of me saying the same things over and over. Like this:

The world isn’t black and white.

I know everyone knows this, but people don’t act like they know it.

I read an article yesterday called “The Rise of American Authoritarianism,” which addressed the bewilderment so many of us feel at seeing how the election has gone this year. Much of the article made sense. Frightening sense.

The problem I had came relatively early on, when the author talked about how social scientists had identified people with “authoritarian” tendencies. They asked four questions about parenting philosophy:

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?

  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?

  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?

  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

I wanted to pull my hair out. Really? You’re going to force people to answer that as an “either/or”? I mean, no doubt there are people out there who would choose one or the other. But surely the vast majority of us recognize that good parenting means developing all of those qualities.

I mean, self-reliance is a critical thing to learn, and I’m all for getting kids to understand why a certain choice is necessary in a given situation. (Critical thinking, you know.)

On the other hand, when kids grow up and have, y’know, a BOSS, they’re going to have to do as they’re told, because they’re told to do it. Period. Parents do their children a grave disservice if they never teach them that obedience is, in fact, a vital interpersonal skill.

Likewise, how in the world can you rate “considerate” and “well-behaved” as an either/or? They are, by definition, intimately entwined.

The answer to every one of these questions, in other words, is “both”!

Now, I can’t deny that the conclusions the research drew from these either/or questions predicted people’s likelihood to jump on a certain bandwagon. What I can tell you is that if the researchers had asked me those questions, they would have gotten several earfuls on the topic, and a flat refusal to be boxed into a black and white answer when clearly, it was NOT a question that had one. (I’ve only been “push-polled” once, and I ended up snapping at them that since they were clearly trying to change my mind with half-truths, I was hanging up. Interestingly, I’ve never received another push-poll call. I really wish they’d try again. I’m so much better prepared now.)

We have got to stop treating the world as if it’s black and white! I know it’s a crazy busy world, full of distraction and frantic running from point A to point B, and we’re all desperate for someone to boil down the complexity into terms we can process quickly, without expending lots of mental and emotional energy to discover that there is no simple answer.

But we are leaping joyfully into the maw of people who manipulate us, who seek to whip us into a frenzy by screaming, for example, that Obama’s going to party hearty instead of attending Nancy Reagan’s funeral. (Incidentally, please do click that link.)

It does not speak well of us as human beings.

It especially does not speak well of those of us who claim to be Christians.

We must think critically. We must accept the complexity of the world, in all its exhausting reality, and question everything that seeks to reduce things to black and white.

It is not that simple. It’s never going to be. And the more we try to pretend otherwise, the more angry and nasty our public interactions will be.

I want better than that. Don’t you?

3 thoughts on “It’s Just Not That Simple, People!

  1. Christine Orchanian Adler

    Per chance, was the article written by a man? That was my first thought. And while it may seem like a sexist question, I have found more often than not that women are the “over thinkers” who explore nuance and subtleties, while men are looking for the clear “answer”, the “right vs. wrong” so they can choose and move on. I’ve seen it in parenting habits too, in men’s vs. women’s styles. Thanks for the post and the food for thought.

  2. Cecelia

    Eh, the questions don’t actually make you say one is important and the other is not important. That’s actually a very black and white way of reading the questions. The questions say, if two otherwise desirable traits come into conflict, which is MOST important.

    I can easily see scenarios where curiosity and good manners conflict for example. And personally I have to decide all the time between encouraging self reliance and obedience because Iz constantly wants to do things herself when we have said “no let mommy daddy do that” because it’s dangerous or she is likely to break whatever she is moving etc.

    So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask, when the two conflict, which do you choose?

    Now it may be the choice varies by circumstance but the question tests default positions.

    • I see what you’re saying, but I don’t see how you can read those questions, as they’re quoted in the article, as anything other than “Choose which one is most important,” which implies that it would be okay to go without the other if we really had to. It’s asking you to generalize when every situation is specific. I don’t HAVE a default position on those. Yes, curiosity and good manners frequently conflict. But that doesn’t mean one is more important than the other. It means sometimes one is more important, and another time the other will be more important. You can’t generalize. The very fact that they didn’t give people the option to say, “Both are equally important,” to me is problematic.

      Now, it’s possible that they did give the actual respondents middle-road options, but it’s not reflected in the article. Hence my disgruntled reaction.

      And yes, with every child you have to weigh “reason” versus “because I said so,” because there are a lot of times when the kids simply aren’t going to understand the reason. And other times, you get a kid who just keeps asking “why” in a completely unconscious attempt to wear you down. Which is why I do use “because I said so,” and I don’t apologize for it. 🙂

      On Fri, Mar 11, 2016 at 10:17 AM, Kathleen M. Basi wrote:


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