I am not very good with colors, when there is something with a turquoise color, I always call it blue, while others call it green. Then, we argue for a while, ask the opinions of other people , but we never seem to find a common ground. Just like this discussion, there are many discussions on a much greater scale in this category which do really matter. Discussions focused on race for example; who is black, who is white? Discussions on land; this part of land belongs to Palestine and this one to Israel. On production rights; I invented this product, but I made it! Who is right here? Why not both? Why couldn’t anyone agree that you both are a little bit right, you both made some mistakes, and you actually share races, land, or rights.
We as humans really try to distinguish things from one another. We want to separate things from each other. We want to exactly define where the (literal) borders are, we want to give things names and we like to set limits to certain action by giving it rules. Through distinguishing the one thing from the other, we can make quick decisions on the things we see. We hate it when things are vague. If the manager asks your team; “who’s fault is this?” He wants to hear a name. He doesn’t want to hear a long story blaming everyone a little. When you want to improve something; you want to know what exactly to improve; you want to pinpoint the cause. You don’t want to hear some long talk about the the eight things to improve, you (often) just want to hear the primary cause; the thing that has the most effect. I believe that the fact we want to categorize and distinguish things from another is something we got through evolution. When we walked in the forest million years ago, it was very efficient to separate a snake from a branch, or a bear from a rock. Separating objects is very useful to respond quickly. However, it has many downfalls. Today, many objects are not that easy to separate from on another. There are multiple reasons why it is difficult to separate objects, which I will describe in today’s blogpost. The first reason is that the separation often depends on the level you zoom. Secondly, we tend to forget the dynamic interactions over time cause diffusion. And lastly, distinguishing things depends on your perspective on the case.
The dynamic interactions cause diffusion
Imagine you are working in a team organizing an event. Peter, who made the flyers made grammar-error in the title of the event. Your manager is furious, he approaches the team and he asks who did this? It would be very easy to separate Peter from the team and point to him. But there are several questions here; who reviewed the flyer, and why didn’t they correct it? Why did the chair trust in Peter to make the flyer? You are working as a team, so you should all be responsible for making the flyer eventually. Everyone could volunteer to check the flyer before it goes to the press. So it’s not easy to distinguish the individual players of the team and find causality. You can also take examples like global warming, a flaw in the structure of a building, the rise of Donald Trump, and so on. Who’s responsibility is it? Because of all the dynamic interaction across many people, the responsibility got diffused and you get a mutual/shared responsibility. The time aspect here is thus quite important.
The meaning of objects
Imagine a row of stuffed animals produced by the same brand. You don’t care about stuffed animals that much, to you they are all the same. But the designer of the stuffed animals is standing next to you, and for her, each stuffed animal has a different story; they are quite distinguishable for the designer. But your 5 year old niece has carried around one of these stuffed animals for the past 3 years. Jacky is very easily distinguishable, while the other stuffed animals are the same to her. So when you talk about similar things with each other, the same things might have completely different meaning across different people. It depends on the perspective and history of your connections with these subject on how you can separate things from each other. Just think about the fact that Europeans have a hard time separating Asians, and Asians with separating Europeans. And another personal example; I love the concept of infinity, thus I adore the symbol and its meaning. So I can’t stand it when girls wear this infinity symbol as a earpiece while not caring about the symbol itself.
On what to separate?
Related to the previous chapter, you have confusion about on what you should separate objects. My girlfriend separates cars by color, while I separate them by brand. But you could also separate them on size, engine quality, tire size. You can separate objects on literally anything you want. And how would you be able to decide what’s the most important thing to separate objects on? This also has a strong relation with your perspective. A personal perspective determines on what you separate. You have the power to separate on the things you judge as important. You can choose to arrange your Google-results; by price, by color, by size, by material, and so on. There is no standard rule here.
The level of zoom
When we go back to the color example, you can zoom in the primary colors (blue, green, red) and you can discuss about turquoise for hours. But if you zoom deeper into the colors to the complementary colors the discussion becomes easier. At this deeper level, turquoise is even a color and the discussion is easily solved. You will find a common ground once you zoom a little bit deeper. Suppose you are looking at a house and you say “I don’t like it”, while your partner says she likes it. You disagree here. However, it could be the case that you are at a different level of zoom. While you might be talking about the house in general, your partner might be talking about the house in the neighborhood in the city. It is important to attune the level you zoom into when discussing things with each other. This is because you might be separating things based on different levels of zooms. Pulling things apart from each other is quite difficult when you are zooming into small details, but when you need to make decisions of the larger concept. How important is the design of the house compared to its neighborhood? They are quite inseparable. The smallest details of the house (like the doorknobs) become the largest concept of the house (the general opinion), they belong to each other. You can not distinguish them.
We still want to categorize every thing we see. It makes things easy for us; we can decide things quickly and go on. But as I showed, there are a lot of aspects that make it very difficult to categorize things correctly. Objects, people, and animals are bounded to time, they consist of multiple levels, have a history, and have multiple facets. These are probably the reasons we have ongoing fights across the countries, across companies, and between people. You could cut each piece of matter into even parts, but there will always be differences from a certain perspective. And the longer you wait, the more things get diffused, and the more you zoom, the more differences you will find. However, we could try our best to agree with each other when discussing these complex matters. If we reverse the reasons of why things are hard to separate, they become easy to separate. This will make it easier to find solutions. These steps would be: 1. Reduce the time-frame of the situation, 2. Accept mutual responsibility, 3. Discuss the perspectives of the involved parties, and (4) talk about the separating preferences, and try to align them. These steps might guide you a little towards separation, but I think we should agree that separation isn’t objectively possible.