The Opposite of a Black Sneaker

In Favor of Outrageous Thinking

The goal of all our arguments is not to join a black-or-white debate, but to create a color, or a set of fancy footwear, not the comfortable shoes that “go with everything,” but a pair of high-heeled neon ankle-killing athletic shoes everyone laughs at until the day she buys a pair. If you start with black, and I start with white, we tend to think we should meet somewhere in the middle, and the middle too often looks gray.


Gray satisfies no one. It can’t be what we wanted. Ending up with compromises no more compelling than our starting premises wastes our readers’ time (if we still have readers at the end). Instead we need to realize we’ve misinterpreted our starting points. We haven’t started with opposites. For one thing, we’re both talking about sneakers.

The opposite of a black sneaker

The opposite of a black sneaker isn’t a white sneaker; it’s broccoli, or impressionist art, or the atomic weight of laughter. We’re not obligated to compromise our positions to find something that contains components of both. We should instead be hoping that the tension between the two ends of the spectrum reveals something more interesting than either of the “sides.” First it reveals that we haven’t started on the two extremes. Then we discover there’s something beyond both our positions.


The worst mistake we can make—even worse than settling for gray—is to start with gray, which can only result in more gray.


Gray on Gray, A Model:

The most common misconception with someone who is happy is we think that person has meaning in his life. A person who is happier may even have less meaning in her life than her less-happy counterparts. Happiness doesn’t define meaning; rather, it defines contentment. Having meaning in one’s life runs deeper than the mere sensation that happiness brings. Meaning is about contributing to the world, to something greater than oneself. Happiness is just satisfaction with one’s current standpoint on life, and one’s environment. The world defines happiness as something much greater than it actually is. Happiness is nothing more than the satisfaction of one’s current standpoint.

Color on Color.

Our goal is the colorful conclusion, achieved by beginning with bold and colorful premises, somewhere along a line of reasoning the ends of which are not in sight when we begin.


Color on Color: A Model

Our neighbor Frank seems happy, and would probably define himself as happy, but he’s not. He takes pride in his fine house, where he lives with his presentable family, and he has job security. Let’s call him content. Our neighbor Ernest rents a cramped apartment, lives alone, and scrapes by freelancing. Let’s call him happy. Ernest is tortured by an abiding outrage against injustice. He champions every cause that comes his way if it will better the world or ease the suffering of others. Often hungry himself, he will share his lunch with anyone. We might prefer to be Frank, but Ernest is more likely to be happy.

If you can prove that, I’ll eat my shoe.

The result of our premises will not be as certain as when we try to start with supposed “opposite sides” of a known argument, but the pursuit of an outcome will be more entertaining, vivid, colorful, and compelling. Maybe even nutritious.


One Side Inevitably Loses any
Black-and-White Argument

EXAMPLE. Today we begin a debate on arming teachers in schools. If anti-gun advocates allow the argument to be phrased as black-and-white options, they inevitably lose. Most likely neither side will get exactly what it wants, but the pro-gun side will win. Why?

The “compromise” solution that will surely be the outcome—the grey in the middle between All Teachers Should Be Armed and No Teachers Should Be Armed—will be to arm “Some Teachers.”  Clear victory for the pro-gun side. Utter failure for the anti-gun side. The outcome lies in the how the question is phrased.

Armed Teachers

In-Class Exercise
WED MAR 11, 2020

Was that helpful? Reply with your new insight on how to think about any debate.

  • Why is it wrong to divide opinion into One Side vs The Other Side?
  • What’s a better way to think about the range of opinions on any topic?

12 Responses to The Opposite of a Black Sneaker

  1. a1175 says:

    Dividing opinions into one side vs. the other side doesn’t work out because there usually ends up being a compromise that wins in the end. So if someone makes an outrageous claim, a compromise might be made, leading that person to still get what they want rather than not having it at all. It’s easier to think that everyone has their own opinions and ideas with a topic rather than just thinking there are specific sides.

  2. j6128 says:

    1) it is wrong to divide opinion into one side vs the other side because you are suppose to compare them and ackowledge the others side point of view for the reader to understand. Also it is important for the author to make their own arugment because the purpose of the essay is to create an argument while ackowlegding the other side of the debate.
    2) a better way is to view them as a color on color model because you know what the point of view is

  3. rose1029 says:

    – I believe this was very helpful, it gave me more confidence with my own argument because even though not many would agree with me now I still have a clear set path of what I am trying to prove to the readers.
    – If you divide an argument into two sides (i.e. yes vs no). Then there is nothing really being proven, no change is happening. Change is what arguments are trying to inspire in the first place.
    – There is a limitless range of topics in any argument. It is like going to the customization page on Nike and designing your own unique pair of shoes, it may have not been made before, but it could inspire others to want the same pair.

  4. bmdpiano says:

    Yes, I found the analogies helpful because they gave different examples of good and bad ways to approach an argument through a visual aid. It is wrong to divide an opinion into One Side and the Other Side because when arguing, it will ultimately end up in a compromise and by compromise, it means one side will win somewhat. It may not be the full out win that side was hoping for, but it was a step in their direction for it becoming that way. A better way to think about a range of opinions on a topic is to think outside the two sides. Introduce something new, like in the example, introduce a new color. It could take the argument to another level and end up showing another result no one even thought of. This is what research is. It is not proving something to be true, it is revealing something new.

  5. harp03 says:

    This exercise was very helpful, especially for my hypothesis. It is crucial to develop a Black or White side to an argument rather than a gray one because the more outrageous one always wins if there is a compromise. You have to have vivid ideas and create a colorful argument!

    1. It is wrong to divide opinion into One Side vs the Other Side because you do not achieve anything by acknowledging the fact that there is a difference/opposition to an argument.

    2. It is a lot more productive to simply create your own outrageous side/opinion on a topic instead of trying to find the opposite of someone else’s side.

  6. alyse816 says:

    This was helpful in understanding what it means to have different sides of an argument and seeing the point of view. When you are trying to argue something you might think you are making a clear point of view but really it is quite unclear. It is not until you define and elaborate on what you are trying to say that you make a clear point. It is wrong to divide opinions into 2 sides because it will often just favor one side in the end, depending on the wording of the opinion. It will often not lead to a compromise which is what the argument intended for. It is better to weigh both sides of an argument and then come to a mutual agreement that will favor both sides.

  7. taxmanmaxwell says:

    I believe our lesson on the opposite of a black sneaker is useful in understanding absurd arguments. Instead of simply arguing the opposite of a ridiculous claim it may be better to illustrate how absurd a claim is in isolation. Afterward it would then be possible to define your own argument and allow it to be seen as a separate unique claim instead of just being opposed to an outrageous claim.

  8. gossipgirl3801 says:

    1. One side of the argument will always outweigh the other and clearly win and the other side will fail miserably. This does not help you come to a colorful solution.
    2. The better way to think about the range of opinion on any topic is to not start out with any prior opinions and don’t start with supposed “opposite sides” and the outcome will be more entertaining.

  9. walmaarts says:

    It is wrong to divide opinions into *blank* vs *blank* because most of the time the opinions solution (if there is one) lies in the middle of the two points. The lesson is useful in showing the extremes of both sides of an argument.

  10. dancestar10 says:

    It is wrong to divide a opinion into one side vs the other side because no one is wrong you are just stating what your opinion is . opinion are what you and you only think its not a definite answer. A better way to think about the range of opinions on any topic is to get opinions from a wide range of people around the world on the topic you are discussing.

  11. tenere84 says:

    Why is it wrong to divide opinion into One Side vs The Other Side?

    1.) It’s wrong to divide opinion into One Side vs The Other Side because doing so ridiculously narrows your range of possible arguments, and you are forced to come to lackluster conclusions that no one finds compelling or interesting. Moreover, one side always loses in a black-vs-white conversation, even if you compromise.

    2.) Look at the range of possible arguments as colors on a color wheel rather than a scale from black to white. Don’t always go for the perceived “opposite” of the initial argument.

  12. shaquilleoatmeal2250 says:

    It is wrong to divide any opinion into one side vs the other side because your argument will end up favoring one side in which you didn’t want. You want to compare the sides so that the readers acknowledge both points. Choosing yes vs no will end up in an argument that will confuse the reader.

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