Monday, 27 June 2011

Study in grey

The self-evident benefits of decisiveness bring to bear the more knotty question of what advantages (if any) may consol those of a more fuzzy-brained disposition. I write as one whose grey matter feels overwhelmingly grey much of the time, and therefore have more than a little interest vested in resolving this particular quandary to my own resolute satisfaction.

I have a theory that the reason we British love polite conversation – no religion or politics please – is the result of a bizarre contradiction. We feign apathy to disguise our strength of feeling. Look at the passion with which we support football teams in this country - obviously we are a nation with a deep-seated psychological need to take a stance.

All the same, I can’t help but find too much certainty painfully irritating. Everyone must have a friend who is so confident of their own opinions that they have no idea how to converse, no idea how to explore the views of others. Such people have a complete inability to either acknowledge life’s complexities or to take delight in them. They are very likely to say things like ‘there’s no such thing as luck’ – a phrase that so revolts me with its idiocy that I have an unfortunate tendency to respond like a lunatic, shouting out things like ‘have you never played snap?’, ‘tell that to the last lottery winner,’ ‘let’s hope you never get cancer or have your house destroyed by an earthquake,’ ‘where is your compassion?’ and so on and so forth, with everyone looking on concernedly in case I’m about to have a seizure.

Shortly after such an outburst there are usually polite mutterings about the time of night, or someone kindly sees to everyone’s glasses as if to indicate that if that’s the kind of evening we’re in for, we may need some liquid relief. Usually the no-such-thing-as-luck chap looks slightly baffled to encounter someone who can be bothered to challenge his opinions, and later enquires concernedly as to whether either of my parents is French.

Of course, there is more than one irony to being resolutely indecisive. When you are not being an accidental Ambassador for Chance, you may be accused of being an Ineffectual Liberal or an altogether Hopeless Case.

Well here’s the comfort. How we deal with life’s uncertainties, its shades of grey, is entirely illustrative of our psychology. People who are ‘ambiguity intolerant’ as psychologists call it, view contradictions, inconsistencies and uncertainties as worrying and threatening. Those infuriating black-and-white thinkers simply have a delicate psyche, a deep-seated need to create their own certainties.

And the grey-minded need not feel inferior in the work place. On the contrary, psychologists have shown that you don’t need to be a black-and-white thinker to be a good leader. The no-such-thing-as-luck chap, who prefers to ignore or deny life’s ambiguities, tends to be risk averse, and were he let loose to run the country, would (almost certainly) be a dictator. Those who can deal with a little bit of uncertainty but prefer to minimise it, would operate an oligarchy. And those inveterate committee types, who like to get the group discussing everything until a consensus emerges, would probably run a very satisfactory democracy. Finally those lovers of ambiguity, who thrive on it and use it as a source of creativity and innovation, they are life’s anarchists – disorganised, explosive, and proven to be more adventurous. They are also more likely to indulge in excessive drink I’m told.