Dualism Might Isolate Us. Why Should We Choose Which Side We Are On?

Thinking outside the box: reasons has more than two faces


What if I tell you that I’m convinced about the reasons of Palestinians? And what if I tell you that Israel is right to conduct a military campaign?

Whatever we hear about the opposition of two fronts, it’s immediately perceived that one’s right and the other one’s wrong. But why can’t we reason about multiple perspectives?

The influence of ancient European dualism

The Western way of thinking is shaped by ancient European forma mentis, which indeed literally means the mind’s shape. This line of reasoning is based on a dualistic logic, which is rooted in the ancient Greek philosophy, and the Roman Empire dialectis. Our ancestors were used to speaking in terms of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong… They built speeches and teachings along a geometrical line, starting from one point and closing at another; this created a simple linear vision with two opposite ends.

Many cultural movements have fed this dichotomy. For example, Christian theology is based on contrasts (God and the devil…) which dominated every aspect of personal life, especially in the Middle Ages. The opposition of the soul to the body involved the duty to mortify personal needs to elevate one’s spirit, and it oppressed millions of people for centuries. There wasn’t any possible rebellion, as everyone grew up with this brainwashing: what wasn’t right had to be wrong, and being wrong was unacceptable.

Dualism is a philosophical and religious idea that believes in two opposing basic principles. The word dualism comes from the Latin word dualis, which means double. So, the concept of thinking in two opposite ways has a long history.

Efficiency of psychological inference in decision making

In a certain way, the ability to trim down the complexity of life was salvific. The possibility of thinking in terms of two choices, only one of which was right, made decisions faster and easier. One of the reasons why Western Countries could evolve so quickly is that the Western brain is used to cover the shortest decisional path. What we created in centuries of social evolution is the psychological inference, which made us fast decision-makers.

We draw inferences when we explain facts. Facts are data, things we see, and situations we live in; facts are objective, we cannot change them. Inference is our deduction, which is how we decide to act (or react) to what happens. But inferences are based on our previous knowledge. So, despite being different from prejudice and bias, also inferences are subjective. Inferences are the fastest way to create an opinion that makes sense.

For example, this afternoon I saw an interview with a writer I like. I didn’t look for information about his life and his books, I just linked his name to the pleasure of reading his novels, and I enjoyed the interview.

Challenging dualistic thinking

Sometimes, we have to make decisions that are much harder than an interview to watch. Let’s face it: life isn’t as black and white as deciding how to spend a couple of hours. Sometimes we’re faced with the real hard-hitters like, “Can I trust this person?” or “Should I invest in Bitcoin?” or even, “Is it safe to go outside here?” 

During the pandemic in 2020, many people lived in such a stressful period that only dualistic thinking could prevent them from burning out. Inputs were too many: a new virus, a lack of information, too many statistics about deads, vaccines… So, someone decided to trust only official science, and someone else decided to trust only other sources. One night, while having dinner with friends, I mentioned that I got my vaccine. But, I also said that skeptical people might have valid points. Then they asked me: “So, which side are you on?” as if there were only two choices.

My friends’ question showed me all the limits of dualistic thinking. And the main limitation is that thinking dualistically can prevent us from self-growing. Dualistic thinking is a box, a limit, a personal growth-stopper, as it’s the tendency to divide things (and people) into two opposing categories. It’s like choosing to eat only vanilla or chocolate ice cream for the rest of your life when there are 31 flavors to try!

As stated by Rosalie Chamberlain: ¹

Duality is a separating force. It separates us from others and from our authentic selves. Duality is not a friend to different perspectives because the attachment to one way versus another way is too powerful. This can be very limiting to you and to the people you lead. In today’s global society and competitive work environment, being open to the world of talent, perspectives, and cultural differences can have a powerful impact on success.

Rosalie Chamberlain

The possibility of non-dualistic thinking

So, should we overcome dualism? An article published in The Growth Equation sums up that, in fact, there are situations in which we only have two choices and we cannot find a third option. But many more issues can be faced with a non-dual mind, such as those found in ancient cultures different from ours. The article takes the examples of Buddhism and Taoism, where the mentality is not selective, but additive. For example: self-discipline and self-compassion. ²

The following story on Medium shows some steps to exit the trap of dualistic thinking:


Well, isn’t it relaxing that we’re not required to have an opinion on every single thing? There might even be instances where we’re seen as Switzerland — perfectly neutral. Even better, there might be the possibility of win-win outcomes, that are working on addition instead of selection. For example, I’m living in a laical Country, which has a strong Catholic history; in our public offices, we show our crucified Christ, and women wearing an Islamic veil are welcome, and Sikhs wearing a turban are welcome too.

Maybe we should be more open to understanding the others’ reasons and the others’ feelings, before deciding on which side we are on. There might be more than one side.

So, in the end, on which side am I, in the sad conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? I pray every day for the safety of peaceful civilians, on both sides.


¹ How to Transform Dualistic Thinking | Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)

² A New Way of Thinking: Not Either-Or, But Both-And. — The Growth Equation

  1. Unveiling the Power of AI in Art: This image, crafted with Jasper Art, embodies the concept of dualistic thinking — a testament to the fusion of artificial intelligence and human creativity. #JasperArt #AIinArt ↩︎

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