Unattractive Opposites

What’s the opposite of Black?

The answer is usually White. That is what my children answered. But when this comes to people, does that suggest that people of different skin tones are potentially in natural opposition? Now there’s a thought.

What’s the opposite of Man?

My children offered: Woman. Really? Are women and men OPPOSITES? It seems an odd thought considering that we are human beings – we’re more the same than we are different, we are – in my opinion anyway – certainly not opposite or in opposition. Maybe I am nuts; everyone seems to answer the same way.

I don’t really understand all this – I get that the opposite of up is down, of left is right, back is front. But when it comes to colours or genders, I am far from being quite as certain. I did some experiments with the children, and it turned out that day was the opposite of night, sweet was the opposite of sour, coffee was the opposite of tea, brother the opposite of sister, vegetables are the opposite of meat, water was the opposite of fire, and a car was the opposite of a bike!

It is daft to think only or mainly in terms of opposites; it’s more often than not just unhelpful. Perhaps the opposite of man is fish, or vegetable – or machine. If black is the dullest colour, then perhaps the opposite is the more vibrant colour – and that certainly cannot be white! I’d go for orange myself.

I suggested the opposite of a circle was a line, and my children laughed at how silly I was – the answer was, to them, obviously a square.

I hear all the time that opposites attract – an idea that, in my view, only ever applies to magnets and nothing else. In relationships, I would suggest that the word ought to be “complement” instead; people that are a good fit, who complement each other, who achieve more together than individually and so forth. Complementary is not opposite.

Here’s a thought to end on: the opposite of placebo is nocebo.  In a placebo, an inert substance produces a positive effect (a fake medicine or procedure).  It is the power of the mind to believe.

However, for a nocebo, we have an inert substance that produces a negative effect.  People read of side-effects and start having symptoms. It’s the same thing – a placebo and a nocebo act in the same way, yet they are said to be opposites. They are not complementary either, the relationship they have depends on the end effects, rather than the means. Now that’s weird!


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