‘Black and white thinking’ is defined as “a thought pattern that is characterized by thinking in absolutes”. This way of thinking, although potentially extremely harmful, has become commonplace in many topics of discussion and debate in recent times. It can be seen through political polarization, religious acceptance, and ethical decisions. Many times, an individual is not willing to look at the other side of the coin; they believe that they either must be absolutely right or absolutely wrong. In the field of psychology, ‘black and white thinking’ is seen as a form of cognitive distortion “because it keeps you from seeing life the way it really is: complex, uncertain, and constantly changing” (WebMD). In fact, this thought process is routinely tied to a plethora of mental illnesses including anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and much more.
I am a large opponent of the ‘all or nothing’ mindset because I have seen the effects it can have on the mind and also on how we treat one another as a whole. Intolerance, however, is such a broad topic, and it is probably more effective to focus on one aspect in which this thought process is affecting humanity long-term: sustainability. In the past couple of years, the practice of supporting environmental conservation and the usage of renewable resources has been one of great importance to a large number of people. Understandably, there has been a flood of call-to-actions by media influencers and even members of the general public to start being more ‘environmentally friendly’. Undoubtedly, these appeals are made on steady ground. With the fact that greenhouse gas levels are at an all-time high and that one million species are at risk of extinction, it makes sense that we have to do something.
The difference though, is that the expectation is not just something— it’s all…or nothing. There are countless ways to support the fight against climate change and today’s leading environmental concerns, each ranging from small, ‘quick’ changes to larger, more radical ones. The issue is when the fads of sustainability start to be viewed as the only ways to show support for the cause–when smaller ways of working against environmental change are looked at as insignificant. It is this rhetoric that makes it so that the sole focus is placed on actions like going vegan, or boycotting all ‘fast fashion’, or signing petitions/sharing Facebook posts to ‘Save the Whales’. Once again, under no circumstances is doing any of this harmful. In fact, it is actions like these that are contributing to changes that hopefully, one day, will save our planet. What is crucial to understand though, is that finding ways to manage our environment is a collective effort and is largely based on privilege, as is almost everything that is used to shame a majority.
In simpler terms, sustainability is all about the collective change made through small and large actions. Ultimately, even with every citizen doing their part, if major corporations and the government do not take action, it will be virtually impossible to make any real progress. Still, it doesn’t mean that the efforts made by the individual is done in vain. Each contribution matters. At this point though, ‘black and white thinking’ is slowly beginning to alter the perception of the common person in how they should be caring for the planet. As previously mentioned, oftentimes those who are going to ‘extreme’ measures use their privilege to isolate others who on the surface, may not be making as extensive of a contribution. On social media, influencers advocate to a large audience that in order to save animals and reduce carbon footprint, one must become fully vegan. At school, the niche group of girls who seemed to become environmentally-conscious overnight begin reproaching those who are buying clothes from Shein or Forever 21. And then, of course, there is the constant flow of post after post about climate change being shared across every social media platform. Essentially, if you are not shouting to the world “I am saving the Earth!”, then it is assumed that you are doing nothing. This is particularly pressing in the fact that this wide assumption is dissuading the younger generation from actually educating themselves on ways they can live more sustainably.
When it comes to practicing environmental conservation, the best thing one can do is to educate themselves. No matter how much the ‘all or nothing’ way of thinking is driven into the workings of society, the key is to recognize that there are so many other ways to support the planet other than what is immediately apparent. What often goes undiscussed is the fact that not everyone can go vegan and buy an electric car and shop 100% sustainably-sourced products all the time. Each person is unique with different health conditions, economic situations, and access to resources. If we continue confining sustainability to what is popular and socially-accepted, it is likely that a vast majority will simply give up their efforts– a consequence, at this point, we cannot afford. Instead, we must consider all our options in practicing conservation and restoration. While this could mean going completely solar at home, it could also mean hanging clothes instead of using a dryer or switching off standby appliances. Sure, it could entail adopting a full vegan diet, but it could also call for implementing a few plant-based meals a week. You could buy all your clothes at thrift or charity shops to increase sustainability, and yet, you could still take that first step by donating old clothes instead of throwing them away. Whatever changes are made to anyone’s daily routine to introduce a little more love for the planet is significant. It’s second-nature these days to look at each effort as a means to an end. In the long run though, it is the a shift in perspective to include all efforts–no matter how fashionable– as holding value that will truly make a difference to the future of the environment and our posterity.
Happy Living 🙂
“Each one of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference. Each one of us must take responsibility for our own lives, and above all, show respect and love for living things around us, especially each other.” – Jane Goodall
-RESOURCES: HOW YOU CAN START LIVING MORE SUSTAINABLY (CLICK FOR LINKS)-
- Zero Waste Home– Resources on sustainable products, event schedules, and a free bulk finder to access package-free locations
- Inhabitat– Green design, environmental and design news/tips
- Earth 911– Green living blog and interactive forum
- Mother Nature Network– Network of sites from 200 countries, categorized by topics such as Earth Matters, Food & Drink, and Health
- Going Zero Waste– Active community invested in living a sustainable life by eliminating waste.
- Get Green Be Well– Tips for living in an earth-friendly, toxin-free way.
- Recycle Coach– Information and tips for recycling
- Energy Star– Site from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that gives information and energy ratings for energy-efficient products and homes + ways to save money on energy at home.
- Grist– News and tips on sustainability
- Climate From the Aspen Institute– Covers breaking news and coming events so you can stay up to date on climate change.
- CleanTechnica- Focuses on solar power, wind power, hydropower, energy efficiency, energy storage, and clean transport, as well as climate change and nuclear power.
- Green Global Travel- Teaches readers how to be responsible/sustainable travelers who do not disrupt natural environments
- Eco Friendly Habitats: ‘Sustainable Living: 65 Ways You Can Start Living More Sustainably’