So, dog person or cat person? Morning person or night person? Tea or coffee? Boxer or brief? Apple or Android? Beach or mountains? PC or console? Introvert or extrovert? Pepsi or Coke? Team Hailey Bieber or Team Selena Gomez?
When did innocent everyday choices become so binary that they began to take over our lives and identities?
They always pop up on first dates—seemingly arbitrary choices that determine whether there will even be a second date. Because an Apple and Android user can fall in love; But where do they charge their phones?
They are also common in friendships, the workplace and the online world. Because, frankly, the universe would explode if Arabica roasters discovered that their friends were Oolong aficionados. or that the difference between two artificially flavored fizzy sugar syrups was the cause of the termination of the drinking sessions.
No one is allowed to choose both. Often, you are not allowed to be just an animal person. Beach and mountain vacation preferences may not depend on the season and time of year. Both larks and owls find the afternoon siesta an irresistible answer to the time of day that suits them best. Choose a side, prepare for battle. Uncertain dies first.
Binary divisions have long vexed people, with psychology even studying the phenomenon. Sigmund Freud called this the “narcissism of small differences,” in which the smaller the difference between two ideas, the more likely we are to think of them as choices of this or that, and the more deeply we value our choices, no matter what. Liverpool and Chelsea are both English football clubs.
The pandemic also shook things up, when the introvert-extrovert binary was shattered and everyone was forced indoors for months at a time. This has led many people to now admit that they are extroverts in compelling social situations, but are generally introverts.
We always included the crowd. Neelam Ram, a professor of psychology and communication at Stanford University, has shown through several papers that thoughts, feelings, and behavior are neither fixed nor static. People go from wanting to be social to prioritizing their own company throughout the day.
It’s the smaller binaries that give way to larger ones, normalizing everyday differences into something more permanent and sinister. Vegetarian or non-vegetarian are no longer menu choices, but avenues for polarization, purity and political commentary. We value our modest stands so harshly, it sets us up for bigotry, intolerance and hatred. It makes it easy to draw lines, exclude “others”, and impose our choices on them.
Of course, there is right and wrong. Some options are protected by the Constitution. Some aspects are really important. But why spend time on which state has the best mangoes, the best silk sarees or the best cinema lately, when there is a wide divide? A 2023 Oxfam report said that from 2012 to 2021, more than 40% of the wealth created in the country went to just 1% of the population. Only 3% trickled down to 50%.
Let’s save our support for things that matter, not for sunrises and sunsets. Enjoy both the TV shows and the books based on them. Let’s look at both Edward Cullen and Jacob Black. Don’t let everyday differences destroy the foundation of our humanity.
From HT Brunch, May 27, 2023
Follow us at twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us at facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch