by Jin, 11-06-08 // 7 comments

Going through junk stored in my parents’ attic to me is almost like time traveling. Every piece of paper, photo, old electronics, etc. takes me back to my younger years, and reminds me of my past states of mind. During my last trip home, I stumbled upon a box full of notebooks from my sophomore year in college. One notebook was on my favorite class, Logic Design. It was the class where I learned logic operators in computing and eventually circuit design.

As I was flipping through my notes of 1s and 0s and occasional doodles, one page in particular caught my attention. It was a page on the logic operator Exclusive Or (XOR). If you’re not familiar with computer science terms, you may be wondering what this term means. What is Exclusive Or?

p q xor xor venn Exclusive Or is a logical connective combining two statements, truth values, or formulas P and Q in such a way that the outcome is true if either P or Q (but not both P and Q) is true.
0 0 0
0 1 1
1 0 1
1 1 0

In plain English, XOR = dichotomy, or false dichotomy. In even plainer English, black OR white.

What was so special about this page in the notebook? Nothing. However, seeing the XOR truth table reminded me of recent events and some of my personal experiences.

“You’re either with us, or against us.”

Are you a black or white type of thinker? Whether we admit it or not, at one point or another, we get caught up in it.

Those who know me well can attest that I’m a pretty logical and mellow person. To get me upset about anything is harder than milking a cat. But I wasn’t always like this. I spent years engaged in flame wars dating back in the BBS days, then eventually on usenet, web forums and blogs. I argued to win, and it felt good to win. I didn’t care what the others had to say, they were wrong. I was very much the same in real life too.

It wasn’t until recent years that my personality got an overhaul. The change was attributed partly to life humbling experiences such as becoming a father, or maturity as I grew older (although I still believe in the saying, “aging is inevitable, maturity is optional”). Booger.

Yin Yang

The true moment of clarity came to me, when I studied Lao Zi’s book Tao Te Ching. Through reading the chapters, I learned about objective thinking, the key of balance, and most importantly, humility.

The world we live in is not black or white. Why do we get caught up in dichotomic thinking at times?

The Cause

The Harms

How to Overcome


The U.S. presidential election is finally over. I, along with many others, are looking forward to the rebuilding of America. During the past months of election coverage, I saw some of the best and some of the worst in people. Media coverage was full of extremism from both sides. When one person holds black or white views on things, it hurts him or her as an individual. Furthermore, when people think that way collectively, it divides a nation.

Our country has increasingly becoming argumentative as a society. People are being judged, not only by their views, but by their associations or labels. If you’re a conservative you must be a religious hillbilly, if you’re a liberal then you’re automatically a weed smoking hippie. I hardly saw any intelligent, unbiased debates that were focused on the essence of the issues, instead of personal, political or commercial gains. Some of the most ignorant things I heard came out of the mouths of those who appeared to be most self-righteous.

None of us are perfect. That’s why it’s important to constantly improve ourselves, to broaden our horizons. Humility comes from humbleness.


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Bryan Chain 11-06-08

Wow. It is really nice to see you get back to some non-design related stuff. Your timing on this post is very relevant in my own life as I am currently working toward sucking up my pride on a major life issue and for the first time actually attempting to avoid an argument I know I would win.

You are on target here in your Causes, Harms, and Fixes to these issues.

The hard part, is actually breaking your old habits and learning to just bite your tongue sometimes.

Charlie 11-06-08

Great read. I agree completely with putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to see their side. I try hard to do this, but I don’t think it is always possible for you to do. There is a big obstacles to being the gray in an argument, emotion and passion. How passionate you are about the topic can lead to higher emotions which will never let you stand on their side of things. Abortion, gay rights, etc are prime examples of this and why they cannot be solved imo.

I use this argument in reverse with my wife. I tell her to stop for a second, and think about what she is saying from my perspective. This usually just pisses her off more, but I swear I will get it to work one day!

Michael 11-06-08

Great Blog Jin,

Victor 11-06-08

Great post Jin. Humility truely is the key to many things in life. He who is wise enough to know they know nothing will one day know it all.

As a Team Lead of 10 developers I’m constantly reminding them that individually we are really ingnorant, but when we come together as a team with an attitude of true humility, and are able to lower our pride and defenses just long enough to ask for help, only then will we really become smarter and wiser than before.

Same is true of relationships, especially marriage. So many times I assume I’m wiser or smarter than my wife, only to find out after much pain that she really does know better than me.

Jin 11-06-08

@Bryan, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with arguing, debating at all. It’s just matter of how we go about it. It’s very possible even after putting yourself in others’ positions, your opinion won’t change a bit. But the point to try, regardless.

@Charlie, I believe there’s a time to agree to disagree, especially when it comes to some of the issues you mentioned. Btw, I hear ya on the wife thing. If you ever find a solution, let me know…

@Michael, thank you.

@Victor, work place is the best place to learn, but it’s also the place we tend to hide our insecurity sometimes. I’ve learned a great deal from my current and past coworkers. Thank you for your view from a team leader’s pov. My wife agrees with you on your last paragraph, I think she’s hinting something…

Dmitry 11-11-08

There is a latin saying — ”ira furor brevis est” — which just means that anger is a brief moment of insanity. Getting angry in arguments is pointless because all you’re doing is wasting your own energy and looking like a fool.

The best way to approach arguments is to look at them as dialectic — or a way to combine both people’s knowledge through propositions and counter-arguments to arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to both. When I argue, I’m only doing it to increase my own knowledge, so in a way, the process is used to pull out facts and knowledge out of the other person and then combine it with your own to see if your position still makes sense. It’s educational rather than confrontational.

Arguments for the sake of winning are useless since you’re not actually learning anything — just wasting time and energy. Of course, getting a good quality discussion out of somebody is not always possible — some people will just argue their position and won’t even listen to you. But then — it’s only their nature — getting angry about it is the last thing you should do :)

Jin 11-12-08

@Dmitry, thanks for the comment. I remember being amazed at how some commenters on your blog talk about function vs. form in a black or white way. That’s something I see a lot when I read design discussions. I think you handled it very well.