I’ve come to recognize a pattern when communicating with certain individuals which leaves me feeling completely and utterly frustrated. Regardless of topic, the pattern involves what observers even notice as one-sided conversations which occur when communicating with someone who is thinking in a binary manner. 

When the brain reacts in a binary way(link is external), it leads to quick, irrational decisions and action; when a dialogue is engaged between the emotional and rational parts of the brain…. We can come to believe that reality is defined by two mutually exclusive categories….  

Events are thus construed as dilemmas to be resolved in favor of one alternative or the other. However, the inherent tension leading to polarization conceals an important developmental opportunity, if we ‘hold’ the tension long enough to permit exploration, differentiation, and resolution by a third, ‘mediating’ element.

'Healthy' groups are not those that avoid conflict and never fall prey to binary thinking and polarization. This is impossible in any case and would arrest progress and development even if it were possible. Rather, healthy groups are those that allow a third element to emerge. With the arrival of a third element, the dynamic shifts from a binary one to—at least potentially —a more balanced and inclusive one…. For development to occur, the group needs to incorporate the capacity to harness the energy produced by polarization and use it to transcend binary thinking in favor of more sophisticated forms of decision making when dealing with internal and external realities….

If the conflict were fundamentally a rational one, the decision-makingprocess could proceed in an Adult manner…. But given that the principal characteristic of a polarity in group conflict is the high emotional charge… the appeal to rational intellectual arguments is fruitless.”

Such binary thinking frequently rears its ugly head when it comes to LGBT people. 

A recent example with regard to homosexuality went as follows:

Homosexuality is wrong(link is external)…. Anyhow, to address your questions.

What life experiences led you to feel the way you do?

I can’t point to any particular thing (life experience, if you like) that’s made me feel this way. Looking at it logically, we have noses to breathe through, though we can now make adjustments if we like. We have ears to hear through, though we can put all manner of things in them. We have sex organs, which we seem to do all kinds of things with, even outside our own species. Looking at these organs, to me at least, the logic of the universe indicates that, as sexual creatures, the male and female are meant to go together. In short, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. We're given these bodies and should behave responsibly with them.

What facts would you need to know to cause you to question your view on this issue?

I’m always willing to look at facts and, yes, even change my mind, but when I look at facts, but even Donald Trump has facts. I look at where ‘facts’ come from and I question them. ‘Facts’ sadly are so easily spun. Facts from government are in need of serious questioning and scientific facts are not exempt from critical thinking. Science can be (and I believe, often is) very politicized…. The truth is, we know so little really…. I’m not saying I’m my views on homosexuality are absolutely right, but I believe they are and I believe there is so much still to be learned about this issue and others.

Do you view black people wrong because they were born black? Do you view Asian people wrong because they were born Asian?

These are really sort of silly questions. Being black or Asian is not a behaviour or an affliction. I believe homosexuality is…. That being said, society discriminates against behaviours all the time. These discriminations are called laws… Homosexuality has become too political for honesty….

By the way, when did you choose to be straight and do you constantly keep that choice in the forefront of your mind because otherwise you would be sexually attracted to men?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had that sort of ‘moment’. I honestly think that if it weren’t for sex, men and women probably wouldn’t talk even to each other, we’re so different. Yet, I’ve never felt any other sexual attraction than to women. While we’re here, let’s clear a few things up about love and sex. They’re two different things. I love my sons. I don’t want to have sex with them. I love my best friend, but I don’t want to have sex with him. I love my dogs, but … do you get where I’m coming from? I don’t consciously even think about this.

If not, what on Earth makes you think anyone else is any different? 

I have the right to disagree, regardless of what anyone thinks of my reasons and I will continue to disagree until there is unequivocal proof (at least to my standards) that I am wrong. If such proof comes, I will change my mind.”

Other than that comment being extremely ignorant and offensive, the individual speaking in an binary manner explained that he doesn’t respect facts from the government or the scientific communities. Yet, he wants “unequivocal proof (at least to my standards).”

"Mental health professionals and others practicing any form of SOCE are by definition allowing their personal beliefs harm others.  Such ‘treatment’ has been fund to be ineffective, and often to cause severe emotional harm, including suicidality.  In other words, it is akin to psychological abuse.

As if that weren't bad enough, in 2015, a New Jersey jury found that ‘a nonprofit organization that claimed its so-called gay conversion therapy would turn gay men straight violated the state's consumer fraud act."

Furthermore, "researchers found(link is external) resemblances in the brain's physical structure and size as well as the strength of neural connections among gay people and straight people of the opposite sex."

Moreover, "a few brain characteristics(link is external), such as density of the gray matter or size of the hypothalamus, do tend to differ between genders. It turns out transgender people’s brains may more closely resemble brains of their self-identified gender than those of the gender assigned at birth."

If gay conversion therapy is "akin to psychological abuse" and has been found fraudulent, then how does this binary thinker's belief align with reality?

Basically, since the individual thinking in a binary manner is unwilling to consider facts other than the sexual organs on a person’s body and his binary worldview of sexual orientation and gender identity, there will never be any facts he’d be willing to entertain. 

Why is it that people who claim to be straight don’t have to provide “unequivocal proof” that they are straight? 

Based upon everything I know, I take people at their word regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity.  However, I would never vouch for anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity other than my own. After all, I’m the only person who I’m with every second of every day and I won’t vouch for what people do or don’t do outside of my presence and observation.

Another recent one-sided conversation I had with someone thinking in a binary manner involved parenting plans for separated and divorced parents of minor children. That discussion was with an attorney who said, “Academically, for instance(link is external), it seems to me that having one parent have the child for the school year with perhaps alternating weekends with the other parent having a majority of vacation time would be in the best academic and social interest of the child as well.”

He wrote an entire article(link is external) based upon this sincerely held belief.

I provided him with the link to an article titled Shared Physical Custody: Does It Benefit Most Children?(link is external) that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers on October 16, 2015.  I informed him that the article was based upon a review and analysis of all 40 studies done on this topic. "The studies included 31,483 children in shared parenting families and 83,674 children in mother (sole) residence families. The studies were conducted during the past 28 years."

I also shared with him the following excerpt from that article

"Even though most children acknowledge(link is external) that living in two homes is sometimes an inconvenient hassle, they feel the benefits outweigh the inconvenience. One of the most beneficial outcomes linked to shared parenting is children’s maintaining a loving, meaningful relationship with both parents. Given this, we need to keep in mind that this particular benefit may not become apparent until later in the children’s lives. So although children who are living almost exclusively with one parent may appear to be doing “just fine” at present, the relationship with their other parent is more likely to be weakened or to be irreparably damaged as time goes by. And that disadvantage may last a lifetime….

In whatever ways each individual state eventually revises its new custody laws, there is clearly a shift away from the “one size fits all” plan where every other weekend and summer vacation with dad is considered in children’s best interests."

If he’d bothered reading the article, he would have noticed why for very good reason, the article states, “In short, it is not in the best interests of children(link is external) for us to ignore or to dismiss the findings from the forty studies.”

He responded as follows:

"Seems like speculation to me not empiricism(link is external): 'Given this, we need to keep in mind that this particular benefit may not become apparent until later in the children’s lives.' So, he thinks a particular effect will result from a speculative cause (as the effect isn't even apparent to opine on the cause seems absurd). 'May', 'may', 'may' tells me the author doesn't base the paragraph above on hard facts but on personal beliefs, bias, and speculation.

And Mark, throwing gross numbers in a study and then stating a series of 'mays' does not transform a 'may' into anything approaching scientific certainty, or for that matter, even admissible evidence."

The U.S. Department of Education says the following with regard  to empirical evidence:

"What is empirical evidence?(link is external)

Scientifically-based research from fields such as psychology, sociology, economics, and neuroscience, and especially from research in educational settings.

Empirical data on performance used to compare, evaluate, and monitor progress"

According to Wikipedia, "Empirical evidence(link is external), also known as sense experience, is the knowledge or source of knowledge acquired by means of the senses, particularly by observation and experimentation."

Mark B. Baer, Esq. is a mediator, collaborative law practitioner, conflict resolution consultant, co-author of Putting Kids First in Divorce, and co-founder of Family Dynamics Assistance Center. He also regularly writes for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.