◄Black and White Morals►
Do younger people see things in black and white terms more often than older people?
A couple days ago, a friend and I were talking about a discussion we’d had with some other folks — folks much younger than either one of us. The discussion was mostly on morality. And both my friend and I noticed the younger folks pretty much dealt in moral absolutes.
My friend would offer up a problem, such as whether it was ever right to cheat on your spouse, or whether a woman should ever marry for money. Some of the answers she got back were conventional; some were unconventional. But both the conventional and the unconventional answers were usually couched in black and white terms, in moral absolutes.
Almost no one responded with, “It is sometimes right, but there are exceptions”, or “It’s mostly right, but it’s not perfectly right.”
I started pestering our young friends with annoying statements along the lines of, “I know someone who is grateful that his wife cheated on him. He says it broke up their failed, abusive marriage — which he nevertheless would not have left, had his wife not run off with another man.” But my examples were simply swallowed by my audience’s absolute certainty that moral matters could always be reduced to straightforward calculations of right vs. wrong or good vs. bad.
Although the discussion was mostly on morality, there was also a similar tendency to see things in black and white terms when it came to other subjects. For instance, when we discussed gender roles, everyone except my friend and I thought they were fairly static. For instance, men were either attracted to looks or they were not attracted to looks, but few seemed to think men were sometimes primarily attracted to looks and sometimes primarily attracted to other things.
◄Why Black and White Thinking?►
If it is indeed the case that younger people are more often black and white thinkers than older people, then I suppose that might be because the human brain typically develops an ability to think in terms other than black and white around the ages of 13 to 15. Thus, for some young people it’s a relatively recent innovation to think “in shades between”, and they might not have had time to fully incorporate that kind of thinking into the ways they look at the world.
◄Living a Full Life►
Of course, there might be some things you probably do not want to experiment with. Yet, even ruling out those things, there is plenty in life that should be experimented with.
While there seems to be no standardized program — no syllabus of things everyone should experiment with — I have yet to meet someone of any age, young or old, who could not use a bit of novelty in his or her life.
It is often said that life is an exploration, a journey, rather than a destination. But for it to be a journey, there must be exploration. There must be some risk of the unplanned and unexpected. Otherwise, life would not be a real journey, for you can no more plan every event in a real journey than you can plan spontaneity.
To the extent that black and white thinking reduces the opportunities for experimentation, it is incompatible with the fullest exploration of life. In effect, one thus becomes imprisoned by one’s own mind.