More of just one thing would save the planet: Discernment.
Discernment. The act of perceiving, grasping, and understanding the non-obvious. Having good judgement. The ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently from multiple perspectives.
Discernment is pretty much the opposite of All or Nothing thinking.
All or Nothing thinking. Thinking in extremes. Black or white, good or bad, either or, one right way, my team over yours. A “cognitive distortion,” or put another way, “messed up way of thinking.” An evolutionary adaptation that allows us to quickly distill an event down to basics so we can make a snap Fight or Flight decision.
There are still occasions in modern life where we might need to emotionally rouse this sort of limited adrenaline thinking. I’m being held up in an alley way; fight or flight. My boss is sexually harassing me; fight or flight.
But most of the time, our daily interactions with friends, family, and coworkers no longer require instantaneous gut reactions for survival. We have the time, luxury, and cognitive capacity to examine the rush of raving emotions, and stop to think about shades of meaning, possible reactions, and their consequences. The process of civilizing humanity (to save us from destroying ourselves) requires the realization that situations are never black or white, we have the ability to chose our reactions, and that there are many more options than fight or flight.
Developing discernment requires first realizing that there are multiple Ways of perceiving and judging. From there, an introduction to using each of these types of perception and judgement makes you more agile in finding alternative viewpoints and explanations. More practice reveals ever greater subtleties in the landscape that once appeared uniform. There’s no longer just light and dark, but now also twilight, dawn, moonlight, and the full glare of noon.
How does this ability to see gradients and refinements save the world?
All or Nothing thinking is polarizing and so it sets us intractably up against each other. It becomes democrats versus republicans and the nuances of serious issues are lost in sports team type rivalry. It becomes my needs versus your oblivion to my needs and the team work of a relationship is lost in the inability to take a step back to get a broader perspective. It is reactive, and reactivity precludes calm observation, reflection, and deliberate decision making — the sort of thinking required to find solutions to serious problems like wars and climate change and being able to communicate with your spouse.
How do you teach a population to see each other’s perspectives? Start by teaching each individual that they contain all the different perspectives within themselves! When you realize that there are already ways in which you and your rival think in the same ways, your rival becomes someone you can identify with. Someone you can identify with is someone you can have a real conversation with. People who can converse are people who can solve complicated problems
This is how I work — by teaching the different ways of perceiving and judging, offering practice using them all in your own life, learning to observe and distinguish them in action in others, and using this language as a basis to begin constructive conversation.
Contact me if you’re ready to get started on this exciting journey of discernment!