s I look back at my counseling throughout the years, I have noticed that there has been a certain population I have had a difficult time connecting with in counseling. It’s not that the counsel was bad, per se, but that the counsel was not connecting to how they operate. As I considered their characteristics and comments, and as I did more research, I would say the similarities of these clients would lead me to conclude that they tend to be more black & white thinkers (I also use the term, “Moral Operators”).
It wasn’t simply in counseling that I would notice this trouble with connection, it was in my relationships as well. As a parent of one such thinker, I also found it difficult to connect with my son at times because we think so differently. For me, well, I am more of a relational thinker. My motives, desires, and hopeful outcomes are very different than the black & white thinker (more on that in another blog). As I researched black & white thinking, I have found it to be seen mostly as a negative thing (many articles call it a cognitive disorder), as all I have seen in writings have been from a secular viewpoint. But first things first, what is a Black & White Thinker (Moral Operator) and how is it different than a relational thinker (Relational Operator)*?
Black & White Thinkers are typically described as believing in “all or nothing,” “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” “strong or weak,” and “smart or stupid.” In these extremes, events or people (including themselves), are judged to be one or the other. There is no middle ground or gray area. Black & White thinkers typically focus on the tangible, “out in the open” things. These are things that can be seen, heard, or measured (the fruit). The thoughts or emotional processes and motives in decisions (the heart) are practically irrelevant and are difficult to grasp. One makes a decision based on what is right or wrong in their eyes. Period. You see other’s actions as “either-or.” Either they love me and will show it (the way it is right for me (self-defined)), or they don’t love me. Either the kids do what I say when I say it or they are disobedient. Black & White Thinkers generally recognize their need for relationships, but have a harder time connecting emotionally in relationships (I find this to be more true for males than females, who seem to be more relational in general than males).
Relational Thinkers/Operators (I’m using this term to describe what is most important to this type of person – relationship) live in the gray. Hardly anything is black & white. Relational Thinkers tend to be more flexible in their judgment of actions and people for the sake of the relationship. Relational thinkers tend to be more empathetic to others, placing themselves in the other’s shoes as much as they can, and sympathetic, identifying with the emotional struggles of others. They will focus more on the “behind the scenes” stuff, such as emotions, thoughts, motives and desires and will tend to be more considerate of the other’s feelings.
In an argument, relational thinkers will tend to give in to others for the relationships’ sake while black and white thinkers tend to stand more on what they see as absolute truths or facts. In other words, relational thinkers will focus on the relationship of those engaged in the exchange, while the black & white thinkers will focus on the content of the exchange. Each one focuses on what is most important to them.
Relational thinkers will focus on the relationship of those engaged in the exchange, while the black & white thinkers will focus on the content of the exchange. Each one focuses on what is most important to them.
As humans created in the Image of God, I believe it is important to see how both of these type of thinkers can reflect Him. You see, God is both moral and relational. There is absolute Truth because it is His universe. There is absolute right and absolute wrong. In His Word, He explains what wrong is (sin) throughout every 66 books of the Scriptures. Yet as His Word explains what is wrong and sinful, these wrongs are also explained in the greater context of relationship between us and Him, the Bride (church) and the bridegroom (Christ). Former Pastor and Speaker, Paul Tripp said, “Sin is not simply a breaking of the rules, it is a breaking in the relationship.” In declaring what is wrong, God seeks the greater good for us, to have a relationship with Him that comes through the repentance of sin (moral) and the reconciliation with Him through Christ (relational).
Yet, even though both type of thinkers come from being image-bearers of God, it is necessary that we recognize that our type of thinking has been stained by the sin in our hearts.
For the Black & White Thinker / Moral Operator, consider this: You interpret and perceive things as right and wrong, but in doing so, have you defined right or wrong, or does that come from God? Does it take into account your relationship with God or others, or only yourself? Are you becoming like a Pharisee focusing on how others need to get in line while being blind to your own sins? When you speak truth, is it spoken in love?
For the Relational Thinker / Operator, consider this: You can see things relationally, but in doing so, are you so focused on having a good relationship that you are refusing to deal with your sin or overlooking others’ sin? Are you so focused on love and feeling good that you are making moral compromises? Are you sidestepping discipline for the children so that you have good relationships with them?
Note: This is a modified post, adapted from the original I had written when the Image Model was in the process of being developed.