For Black-and-White Thinkers vs Relational Thinkers, Part 1, click here.
It’s been 6 months since I wrote the first blog on black-and-white thinking. After receiving some feedback from others and speaking to many people in counseling on Black-and white thinking and relational thinking, I thought a few additional thoughts were necessary to gain a better understanding of the two. I was asked by a few people if I thought that black-and-white thinkers were all wrong, and whether I plan to write more about relational thinkers. Well, I do plan to write more about relational thinkers… in the future. Regarding the other question, I’ll need to do a little explaining about whether black-and-white thinkers are all wrong (FYI – they are not):
It’s important to distinguish between black-and-white thinking and black-and-white thinkers. black-and-white thinking is a thought process that can be done by everyone. Often times, those struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and anger have black-and-white Thinking. The either-or and all-or-nothing thoughts are often present in everyone, but black-and-white thinking may not be prevalent in those individual’s lives. Black-and-white thinkers, however, perceive, interpret, respond, and interact to all of life’s situations judging between right and wrong, correcting others, going all in or all out of situations, and typically focus more on actions rather than heart issues. Black-and-white thinkers tend to be more concrete, placing emphasis on what is physical, can be physically observed, facts, figures, laws, standards, details, etc. Many black-and-white thinkers have a difficult time understanding abstract (and relational) concepts of love, emotions, feelings, grace, etc. All of this is part of their makeup and is not “wrong,” but different than relational thinkers (To declare black-and-white thinkers as wrong would be being black-and-white!). It’s my hope that seeing the differences between the two and identifying which type of thinking is most prevalent inside of you and others will help readers become more like Christ.
But perhaps it would be better to come up with a different term than black-and-white Thinkers. Let’s take a look at another way of understanding black-and-white thinkers vs relational thinkers and how a better understanding of each leads us to Christ.
Black-and-white thinkers are essentially Old Testament Thinkers (OT Thinkers). OT Thinkers process events and speak according to certain law, standards, or truths (concrete) as set by God, society, or self. The observable actions (or inactions) are interpreted, or judged, as being right or wrong. Many black-and-white thinkers even value people according to what others bring to the table. If they don’t work or do what they should do, then they are de-valued in the eyes of the OT Thinker. Any relationship, including a marriage, seems to turn from being lovers to an employer – employee relationship. The Old Testament emphasized God’s standards and laws that were to be followed, explained how Israel broke the laws and were punished, and how they needed to turn from their wicked ways. These Laws of works declared that we should obey the laws and when we do, things will go well, but when we don’t, we must make amends, sacrifice, or be punished. Although there were many laws to follow, the law demonstrated a simple standard to follow and we must do it. There is little regard for feelings or emotions because they didn’t matter, only actions mattered. It simplifies life into a Nike slogan, “Just do it.” The Old Testament, however, is not silent about a God who is relational and who showed mercy, patience, kindness, and grace; but this is not emphasized as much as it is in the New Testament. The purpose of the laws was to show that they cannot be obeyed fully, and to show us our need for Jesus. Like the Old Testament laws, Old Testament Thinkers (often seen as Pharisees in the NT) who simplify their lives by living under standards or a law and impose standards upon others have a need for a Savior. Jesus in the Gospels, who is the fulfillment of the law, is exactly who Old Testament Thinkers need. This Jesus met all standards and demonstrated the relational side of God. While living by the standards / law, he demonstrated continued love and grace to others, and all while holding onto Truth. Jesus did not condemn or judge others for their actions (though he did call out the Pharisees on more than one occasion), but simply valued them for who they are (created in God’s image) and not by what they did.
Relational thinkers are less “law and truth” focused, and are focused more on showing love and grace (abstract). If Black-and-white thinkers are more Old Testament Thinkers, the Relational thinkers are more New Testament Thinkers (NT Thinkers). Since relationships with other people are of the utmost importance, all words and actions ought to consider relationships more than anything else (for some, considering feelings more is more important than considering truth). In addition, the importance of emotions and feelings are elevated since they are necessary for good relationships. A relational focus in the NT begins with Jesus Christ being sent into the world because of God’s love for us and his desire for us to spend eternity with Him. This relational focus of love continues in Jesus’ life and death and is also emphasized through Paul’s letters as he instructs his readers to show love and grace to others. Although the emphasis of the NT may be on Relational matters of love and grace, the NT is also built upon the Truth/laws of the Old Testament. NT Thinkers who overemphasize love and grace or emotions and feelings miss the necessity of Truth as defined in the OT or seen in the book Revelation. If truth is considered, NT Thinkers sometimes elevate love and emotion as truth, and downplay the Law or Truths in the OT. NT Thinkers ought to continue reading the New Testament which points to the same Jesus who stands on Truth and who judges the nations according to His Truth. Although feelings, emotions, and relationships matter greatly, they cannot diminish the importance of Truth.
NT Thinkers place feelings, love, and relationships as priorities and tend to be more sensitive to the emotional needs of people, while OT Thinkers tend to place truth, standards, and conformity to such “laws” as priorities. OT Thinkers‘ focus on law, standards, and truth which are not anchored in the love and grace of Jesus will result in broken relationships, conflicts, and Pharisaical living. NT Thinkers’ focus on emotions, feelings, love and grace which are not anchored in the Truths of the coming Jesus and His judgment through the law will result in a license to live by feelings and cheapen grace by continuing to live in sin. Whether we are more inclined to be OT Thinkers or NT Thinkers, both types of thinking point us to our need for Jesus Christ, who is both relational (Love/grace) and black-and-white (Truth). Living by Grace/Love and Truth are necessary in our lives. It’s not enough for us to speak truth into someone’s life, we need to speak it in love. It’s insufficient to speak in love to someone if we are not speaking truth. Both are necessary. When we turn to Christ for our forgiveness, follow Christ as our head, and continue to seek after Him in love and truth, we will begin the journey to become like Him. Are you ready to get started?
Other black-and-white thinking blogs: