Most of us grow up in a close-knit social environment, rarely if ever experiencing anybody or anything outside of it. How many people do we meet and have meaningful interactions with? If you think about it, the number is relatively small: our immediate family, neighborhood or school friends, employers, coworkers, and significant others, all of whom are inside our insulated social group because we naturally gravitate to people who are like us.
Of that small group, how many of them have a chance to show us something completely outside of the norm? An even smaller number, because we rarely engage in any conversation deeper than the weather, current events, gossip, and mutual interests. Religion, science, education, and our cultural and social structures erect roadblocks that cause us to self-censor our thoughts, experiences, and imaginings that are too far outside of the norm. We don’t even seek out or allow ourselves to view new things in books, on the internet, or on social media.
The result of this naturally occurring situation is that most of us never even see, much less experience, anything outside of what we call normal. It’s not that “normal” is defined as one set of concepts and experiences; but rather that every group has its own.
Because we have a natural tendency to stick to what we know and recognize, people and concepts outside of our normal are foreign irritants. We are uncomfortable with the homeless panhandler on the street corner; certain political platforms, personality types, and religious beliefs; different skin colors or lifestyles; and even our spouse for leaving hair in the sink. We don’t usually have the desire to experience things that aren’t already known. What is known is safe, secure, and comfortable. What isn’t can be frightening—equivalent to jumping off a cliff.
The inclination to stay within our norms creates and supports linear thinking, which we use to categorize and judge all that we experience. This paradigm of linear thinking leads to the mental concept that there is one set of truths to which everything in our normal universe must conform in order to be acceptable. All else is unacceptable and must either be made to conform or be eliminated from contact or existence.
Linear thinking is defined like a line: two points in space. Conceptually, this translates to good and bad, right and wrong, high and low, truth and lies.
We can use geometry to describe the four basic dimensions of thinking that affect our perceptions of the world around us:
1. a line, two points in space: good/bad, right/wrong, high/low, a one-truth reality (single dimension)
2. a plane, two dimensions: recognition of the existence of other truths (two dimensions)
3. a solid, three lines, or the addition of depth to a plane: the recognition that other truths are as valid as our own and can coexist peacefully and in mutual support (three dimensions)
4. time: the fact that truths change over time, are transitory, and gradually lose their effect on our interactions with others (four dimensions)
The above list shows that the underlying problem with linear thinking, or one-dimensional thinking, is difficulty in getting along with others. Creating a harmonious living environment isn’t about converting all to one truth (history teaches us that this only results in a lot of bloodshed on all sides); it’s about allowing others’ truths to be right for them, accepting their truths as having the same value as ours, and acknowledging their truths’ inherent right to exist. The result of making this conversion is conversation and negotiation . . . and a lot less conflict.