Copyright Lark Ritchie 1995. 1996. 1997.
I have switches in my thinking. I think we all do. By a switch I am talking about a switch in the sense of a light switch, a toggle switch which turns a light either on or off. Switches can only be either on or off. Another sense of a switch, is the railway switch. Similarly it allows one or the other direction possibilities; move the train into track one, or move the train into track two. The switch can never move the train in more than one direction at in the same instance.
In the new computer terminology, we call these two positions binary states and considered together, they are parts of a binary system, the prefix being "bi", like in bicycle, meaning two cycles, or two wheeled. A switch can be only on or off, and cause something to be either there, or not there. In this case, the absence or presence of light. My thinking, and I think other people's thinking, uses internal mental switches. Things can be either on or off, small or large, white or black, good or bad, of benefit, or not of benefit, one or the other.
In the areas of human relationships, there is a place for binary thinking. There is also a place for another type of thinking, where things are not just on or off, or black or white, but of varying shades, all the way from black to white. In between these two extreme states, lies an entire continuum, a vast spectrum, ranging from the darkest gray which follows total blackness, to the very lightest gray, the almost white, just before total whiteness. If we compare this idea of a range system to the idea of a binary system, we can say that the varying range is the opposite of the binary. We call that range system the analog system. The analog system, if we were describing light switches, would be a dimmer switch, the light, besides being on, can range from "ever-so-dim" through "comfy", to "extremely or painfully bright". Opposedly, the binary switch can only make the light on or off.
In concept, the two systems are truly different. It is important to understand that even though the two systems are fundamentally different, we, as people, as human beings, seem to use these two different ideas to describe things in our experience and in our life as either good or bad, or almost good or mostly bad, or some such value somewhere in between. We use the two systems as a model to evaluate circumstances, life outcomes, and our very own being.
One of the problems we face as human beings is that we confuse these two systems, using them sometimes as overlapping, or interchangeable systems or models. We consider the binary system as just the extreme ends of the analog system. We must remember that they are not overlapping, and one is not just the extreme of the other. The binary system is specifically just one or the other. The analog system is strictly a wide and infinitely divided range between the two end points.
In human life and thinking, there is a place for the binary system model, and there is a place for the analog system model. Unfortunately, because we consider each system to be a part of the other, we sometimes we use the wrong model in the wrong place in our response to life and personal relations.
There are dangers in getting these two models confused, in using one in place of the other, and there is danger in maintaining the binary results as a part of one's thinking and decision making process; of storing that binary decision and using it as the basis for other decision making processes. More about this later, but for now, let's consider the two models.
Binary models fit in the area of decisions. They should be a result of a decision process. A decision is a choice between some thing, and some other thing, or some several things. The decisions "I am going to the baseball park", or "I am not going to the baseball park" are two alternatives of a choice I may make. There can be no other result in such a decision. Until the choice is made, nothing has happened in the binary system, nor in my life. The binary model more or less is used to describe the results of the decision.
Analog models, on the other hand, fit in the area of the exercises or the process of coming to a decision. It is the process or the state prior to making the decision. In the case of deciding to go to the baseball park, a number of choices could have been made. One could have chosen to stay at home. One could have chosen to visit a friend, read a book, go shopping, or a number of other adventures in the wide scope of life's possibilities. Considering the venture to the park, they all result in one of two things, "I will go", or "I will not go". The other alternatives which consider going elsewhere may be weighed and evaluated, and a choices finally made, only after I make a decision not to go to the park.
As we make the decisions. a multiplicity of factors are considered to arrive at the choice. And while this is happening; while these factors are being weighed, we are running through a process using analog thinking. Things considered are more in the nature of how good will this be, or how much fun will this be, or how much of a bother will this be.
For example, if I go to the park alone, my good friend Fred may be insulted. Should I ask him to come? The binary system says Fred will either be insulted or not insulted. At this point in my decision, I really do have a binary choice. Either to decide whether Fred will indeed be insulted, or not insulted.
Suppose I decide that Fred will be insulted. I have made a decision, and the result is one of the two binary states. That state is "Fred will be insulted". Okay, Fred will be insulted. But that being so, how insulted will Fred be? Will our friendship be destroyed? Will he just say "Damn, you should have asked me, I would have like to have gone too."? In this area, I would have to consider the entire range of possibilities in Fred's response. After considering, then I would have to come to some decision; either to invite Fred, or to go alone. To go alone will have some repercussions, and I will have to live with the consequences.
In this scenario, the evaluation of choices used an analog system to weigh the alternatives and the consequences, and the result of the entire process was a binary state, a "yes" or a "no".
In coming to a decision in a life situation, there is no true right or wrong, but there is a very wide range of possibilities moving form the very costly or negative; to the inconsequential or the most positive. That is where thinking human beings may enter a dilemma, sometimes for a few moments, sometimes for a very long time. That is the struggle, for example in an abusive relationship where one struggles with the myriad of possibilities and the moral, financial, social and personal implications of staying or leaving a partner.
The analog model is ideally suited to the relationship between a parent and a child as seen from the perspective of the parent. From the child's perspective, a binary system is most likely, but not always in place. When these two systems are interchanged, or one used instead of the other in either the parent's or child's thinkings, the results may be disastrous in the development of the child as he or she grows to be an individual which society considers an adult.
For a young child, it is probably necessary to have, initially, a binary system of thinking. Things are either "safe" or "dangerous", "hot" or "not hot", "yes" or "no", "do" or "do not do". The child is in most cases under supervision, and we are attempting to teach him something. To take care of himself, to become an adult capable of directing his own life. We cannot depend on his level of rational, not because he is incapable of reason, but because he does not have the resources of life experiences on which to call on when making a decision. Many of the things he may encounter will be first time experiences. The first time out of the yard, he may not even be aware that the wide expanse of the street contains potential danger. It is better and safer for the parent to begin with the extreme limit of Do not go beyond the fence, or do not go beyond this point. Further explanation implies that we have previously defined, and he certainly understands all of the words and meanings we will use in the explanation. To risk a child’s life on so many words and meanings is not worth it. Better to establish a binary system, setting the immediate limit of No, do not go, or some such definite wall. This is the beginning, and we know that in time he will be ready to determine whether or not he should leave the yard and venture out into the street.
What we sometimes fail to realise is that in defining the boundaries of behaviour, and ultimately, the behaviour of the growing child, is that our mission, as adults, is not to give the child binary thinking, but to give him analogical thinking. We would prefer that as an adult that individual becomes able to weigh the factors in a decision process to come to a point of action and from there continue his progression through life. We sometimes fail.
We sometimes teach our children, the mini-adults, the future full adults, to think using binary methods. That things are either good or bad, benevolent or malicious, fearful or exciting. Nothing in between. It's an easy mistake to make, and we all fall into this at one time or another as we parent. The trick is to realise that we make mistakes, understand our mission, and resolve to correct our mistakes; to develop to grow the adult in every child, and the child in every adult.
In the first years of the child, we define things as binary, and as time passes, we introduce the gradients between the extremes. A roller coaster should not be defined as "It's too scary for you.", it should be presented as "You're not ready for a ride on that yet." or "it's no a good ride for little guys like you".
It is also important to distinguish between "bad" and not "good". There are relatively few things in life that are "bad" in the sense of true danger or destruction, but there are many things that are "not good" for a particular person or stage of life. A child's behaviour may be not good in this instance, but is it really bad behaviour in all cases?
As the child's confidences grow, things which were not good for him two years ago may now be appropriate, or at least allowable. We must be able to transfer to the child a sense that experiences are appropriate, depending on a prior level of experience and a certain level of maturity. And as he grows, certain experiences and exposures are beneficial to him as a developing adult.
As adults, some of us still hold those binary systems of good and bad, safe and destructive, fearful and entertaining. I know I do. I have stored certain things away in my being, in my thinking processes, and these things are binary. There are no alternatives but two. There is only a "yes" or a "no", a "good or a "bad", acceptance or rejection.
Each of us at some point in our lives comes across this type of thinking and may use this type thinking in our everyday decision making processes. Prejudice, for example is a binary condition. Those people, rather than these people, are bad people. That action, rather than this action is good. This word, rather than that word is destructive. But in reality, can we say that all those people, that that action, that that word, in all cases, is bad or good? I most people would give me an argument on hearing such a statement.
Another thing we forget as adults, is that switches, in real life are not set permanently. Switches, by design, are temporary settings put in place for a time, to be modified at some other time. In the case of a bedroom light, the reason for the switch is so that the light may be set to be on or off. Otherwise, there is no real need of the switch.
Similarly in life, mental switches should be allowed to be modified. Things that were once determined to be in the negative should be able under the appropriate conditions to be re-evaluated and determined to be in the positive, and even later, be re-set to the negative. When we hold that a switch, once set, is set permanently, then we limit our selves and our personal growth.
Many people do not allow their switches to be reset. What was once labeled "destructive" may no longer be destructive. What was once bad, may no longer be bad. What was once fearful may not be presently fearful.
When we hold a stiff and permanent stance to life's conditions we limit the methods by which we cope. Our path becomes very straight and narrow. We may get through all of life's trials using this type of code; we may become personally successful in that we respond in appropriate ways and means, but it may become boring. Not necessarily to ourselves, but those who choose to go through life with us, our friends and partners, and our spouse.
A common area where switches are set in a "permanent" mode is the area of self esteem. Many people have been taught not to think, only to act according to a code. Thou shall or thou shan't may be right for a child, but does not take into account the real possibilities and alternatives available to the responsible adult. A female child taught that men are bad may never re-set that switch, and subsequently never form a deep and intimate relationship with a male partner. A person taught to believe that dogs are vicious may never experience the loyalty a dog can give to its master or family. Switches are meant to be re-set. Not allowing them to be re-set limits our development.
Alternatively, analog thinking, the belief that some dogs are vicious, and some dogs are not, can be of benefit to us. This type of thinking will allow us to venture beyond the straight and narrow, to risk and make further decisions beyond that of approaching a dog. When we approach cautiously we can protect ourselves, and if this happens to be a vicious dog, we can slowly back away. On the other hand, we may find that he is friendly, willing to snuggle, wanting to be petted, and allowing us to derive the pleasure of providing pleasure. Our approaches to relationships can result the same negative or positive pleasures, and if we are careful, we can risk ourselves to chance the unknown and discover a positive relationship.
Switches are not only set by others such as those set by parents when we are children. We may set switches ourselves. As described previously, the place for switches is in the area of recording the results of decisions. Another place for a switch is in the area of value. Once bitten by a dog, one may set an internal switch indicating that approaching a dog is dangerous, and henceforth, never approach a dog again. A mental switch used this way, is what we normally refer to as a bad experience which we never forget. Depending on the intensity of the experience, we may never want to reset that switch, and all dogs will remain as potentially vicious animals, never to be trusted. In terms of human relationships, once deeply hurt, an individual may never risk personal involvement again. The person may know the pleasure of a deep relationship, but the pain of the loss of intimacy is thought to be so unbearable that it is better to not attempt another relationship, or to avoid relationships at all costs.
A morning conversation
Dad: Hi boy...
Allan: Hi "father"
Dad: You how did you sleep?
Allan: mmmmph........ (stretching)
Dad: You are exhausted. we have to get rid of that exhaustion
Allan: Dad, I had nightmares last night...
Dad: Really? I slept here with you and I didn't know that
Allan: Ya, I was playing bicycle with William, you know when you lie on your back and move your legs is the air?
Allan: I was holding his legs and pumping them... then one of his legs fell off... it was scary...
Dad: Wow, that must have been scary.
Allan: Ya, it was like real, and it just came off... I said to myself, don't get scared, If you get scared, he'll get scared. don't get scared.
Dad's thoughts: You’re such a big guy, (mature in thought) I am in wonder of you, your maturity of thought.
Dad: In ten minutes you have to get up.. I'm going to make breakfast for you. I'm going downstairs now.
Allan: Carry me.
Dad: I can't carry you; you are big, and my back is small... and weak.. but I can carry you symbolically. I can hold your hand... I am going to make you breakfast. see you downstairs
Allan: Dad don't leave me symbolically... carry me symbolically with you...
Dad: OK let's go now... (Hand in hand, they proceed to the bathroom for a pee.)
We should ask ourselves... How are my switches set? Should they be set as such?
© 1996 Lark Ritchie. Contact me at this address..