- Books, Literature, and Writing
"There are Two Kinds of People in the World....Those who X and Those who Y"
How the "Two kinds of people" formula works
If you want to instantly engage your audience, whether writing or speaking, start with the phrase “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who x and those who y.” For example:
“There are two kinds of people: some willing to work and the rest willing to let them.” (Robert Frost)
The formula is practically foolproof.
If y is a specific action or belief, you may or may not be setting up a false dichotomy for the sake of humor, drama, or deception. Take this example from the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding in which Toula’s father tells her:
“There are two kinds of people in the world…Greeks…and people who wish they were Greeks.”
This of course is a humorous false dichotomy. Not only is it funny, but it tells us something essential about the character of the father.
If, however, y is defined anything other than x , then there is an undeniable logic to the statement. Here’s an example from Ann Landers:
“At every party there are two kinds of people -- those who want to go home and those who don't. The trouble is, they are usually married to each other.”
If you are not one of those who wants to stay at a party, then the logical assumption is that you want to leave it.
Sometimes a writer sets up a dichotomy that may not be self-evident, but then sets out to make the case that it is true. For example, here’s an example by G.K. Chesterton:
"There are two kinds of people in the world, the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic." (Generally Speaking , 1928).
This can be an excellent way to start a persuasive essay.
Setting up a dichotomy works because it organizes the complexities of humanity into two neat categories. Even when the proposition is ridiculous, it is a pleasure for us to think about placing something as unfathomable as human behavior into neat orderly boxes. We like order. Of course human nature won’t stay in those neat boxes, but we find momentary pleasure in the thought.
The formula in literature, politics, and pop culture
Over the years, this formula has been a mainstay in comedy, literature, and politics:
There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating - people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing. – Oscar Wilde
“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” – Indira Gandhi
Fifties sitcom sexist:
“There are two kinds of people in this world: The earners and the spenders, or as they more popularly known: the husbands and the wives.” – Fred Mertz to Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy
Beyond people: Two kinds of everything
Often writers use this formula to divide things other than people into two categories:
“There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire. The other is to gain it.” – George Bernard Shaw
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.” – Buddha
“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” – John Adams 1826
“There is [sic] two kinds of music: the good and bad. I play the good kind.” Louis Armstrong
Attitude toward life:
“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
The death penalty:
“The penalty of death has two kinds of partisans, those who explain it, and those who apply it; in other words, those who devote themselves to the theory and those who attend to the practice.” – Victor Hugo
Dichotomy as a framework in so many books
What got me thinking about this technique is that it appears in so many of the books I have been reading. Some books are entirely built on a structure of dichotomy. For example, in Miracles by C.S. Lewis, the primary dichotomy is the naturalist view of reality vs. the super-naturalist view; after setting up the dichotomy, Lewis proceeds to make a case for which of these belief systems makes the most philosophical sense.
I am slowly making my way through Pensees by Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician, inventor, and philosopher. Pascal divides the human race in a variety of ways, the main division being between those who understand the world mathematically or logically and those who understand it intuitively. As a brilliant mathematician who devoted the latter part of his short life to religious writing, I am guessing Pascal felt he had the ability to understand the world both ways.
Another book I am currently reading is The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, first published in 1944, in which Hayek expresses the view that people are divided into believers in some form of collectivism and believers in an individual’s right to think and do as he or she chooses. Many Christian writers divide all of humanity into the ultimate two camps: those destined for heaven and those destined for hell. In The Divine Comedy, Dante does describe purgatory in great detail, but the souls residing there are definitely destined for heaven. He has only one dividing line between the saved and unsaved; it’s just that he sets the line between hell and purgatory rather than between heaven and hell.
Perhaps the ultimate book about irreconcilable dichotomy is The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, which is all about why there can be no compromise between heaven and hell. A representative quote from the book expresses the message well: “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'" Jesus Himself makes a similar point in the scary parable of the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25: 31-46].
I have only touched the surface of the abundance of "two kinds" literature. What dichotomies come to your mind? How would you divide the world? Or maybe you wouldn't! To sum it up:
“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't.” – Robert Benchley