Black-and-white thinking leads to "either-or" conclusions.
For example, someone hears that she should light Shabbat candles 10 minutes early to facilitate powerful and additional blessing in her life. So let's say she tries and lights only 5 minutes early. Or she lights exactly on time (10 minutes late, in her mind). Or she even lights 7 minutes after the designated time.
"Because I didn't manage the extra 10 minutes," she might say, "then I failed."
Black-and-white thinking: "Either I manage to light 10 minutes early and receive reward, or I don't and so it means nothing."
"Either I succeeded or I failed."
"Either I receive reward or I receive nothing/or I receive punishment."
This prevents the kind of complex, mind-expanding thought necessary to deal with real spirituality and paradox. And paradox is exactly what Judaism addresses all the time. For example, the paradox of the free will to do anything, yet Hashem controls everything and knows everything in advance. Or the paradox of Hashem being All Compassionate yet there is the Holocaust.
In the above candle-lighting example, a black-and-white thinker denies the fact of spiritual physics: Just the bare truth that she MADE A SINCERE EFFORT to light candles 10 minutes early, then that etched a positive imprint on her soul and also enhances her into a vessel for blessing.
Children think in black-and-white, but adults are supposed to be more advanced than that. Yet because Western society has turned into a cult, and many of us have been raised in this cult-like environment, we can find ourselves affected by black-and-white thinking without even realizing it.
(And because black-and-white thinking leads to despair and hopelessness, this is a major reason why so many people in modern society are depressed or snarky or negative or escapist.)
Also, even an Orthodox environment can unintentionally use cult tactics to teach Torah, which can also affect people negatively, despite the genuine Torah encased within the cult tactics.
Anyway, a lot of Chazal's writings assume that you're in a Jewish community with access to normal non-cultish thinking.
Contradictions or Directions?
But he offers seemingly contradictory advice within. This is because if follow one directive and you're not successful, then you have the contrasting directive as Plan B.
This is Hashem's way of getting you where He wants you to go. You start off one path, but then Hashem nudges you to veer off to another path.
This is sort of like how a Jew does his or her best to keep Shabbat and avoid transgressions, but if Hashem wants a child born on Shabbat, then He sends the signals loud and clear, which cause the parents to transgress Shabbat (calling an ambulance, etc.) -- and such a transgression is actually a mitzvah in this case and ratzon Hashem. So there is no contradiction between keeping the laws of Shabbat and calling an ambulance on Shabbat.
Likewise, the Pele Yoetz refers to earlier Sages who advised a man against marrying a widow because she is likely to recall him fondly, even as she never mentions this to her second husband. "And what if the first was pleasant and the second is a difficult person?" the Pele Yoetz posits. "Then she will despise the second one in her heart." (This seems an obvious hint of advice to the second husband to behave well. See? Rav Papo sprinkles important messages throughout the whole book.)
Then he introduces scarier information, like how the Zohar says that marrying a widow is placing oneself in danger similar to casting oneself to sail in the great ocean.
And then he strongly recommends that avoid marrying a divorcee or widow, and only marry a woman who has never been with a man before.
But then he says:
The exception is if he's gotten along in years and cannot find a betulah to marry; he shall not exempt himself from being fruitful and multiplying. Instead, he should take whoever he can find. And these are the wonders that come from the Perfect Knowing One. And Hashem will not withhold good from those who walk with sincere intentions.
So a black-and-white thinker will say, "Oh, there's no point because look at how bad it is to marry a widow or divorcee." ("Either I need to marry a never-married woman or it's not worth getting married at all!")
And what about the words of the Pele Yoetz, insisting that at the end of the day, a man needs to marry whoever he can?
"Oh, he's just saying that," says the black-and-white thinker. "But we know what he REALLY means -- you're not supposed to marry a widow or divorcee." (See? The black-and-white thinker starts engaging in all sorts of discouraging chachamahs, which lead to despair and inertia.)
And what about the Pele Yoetz's final words on the matter, words which clearly imply that if you can't find a never-married woman, then that's Hashem's way of telling you that the willing divorcee or widow is your real zivug?
"Oh, he's just saying that," dismisses the black-and-white thinker. Or, "Rav Papo was on such a high level, we can't understand what he really meant by that."
And if you try to point out (in the spirit of his words: "And these are the wonders that come from the Perfect Knowing One. And Hashem will not withhold good from those who walk with sincere intentions") that Yehoshua bin Nun married Rachav and things worked out excellently for them (8 prophets descended from them, including Chuldah), or you point out couples you know personally, like say a formerly never-married guy in a very happy marriage with a divorcee and so on, then the black-and-white thinker will wave you off and act like YOU are the one who just doesn't understand.
Hope for the Black-and-White Thinker!
It doesn't happen overnight, but slowly, your mind starts to heal from all the brainwashing and it opens up like a flower awakening after a long winter.
Side Point: I do think the above chapter is one of the things that relates to Rav Papo's times to a certain extent.
Today, you unfortunately have many people with previous -- even many previous -- relationships prior to marriage. Some of these relationships still linger in the person's mind, yet some are completely forgettable, and the reality of the person's true feelings depends.
And because of the Pele Yoetz's concern for the zivug-seeker's mitzvah of being fruitful, he seems to be addressing a man who has never been married himself. So this is different now, but there are still aspects of this message that apply today.
Don't Judge until You've Read the Whole Book
I noticed that whether it's the Kli Yakar commentary on Chumash or the Pele Yoetz mussar guide for life or anyone else, if you don't read the whole thing, then you aren't going to get the whole message or their real attitude about various issues.
For example, even though the Pele Yoetz has a chapter on Women/Nashim and another on Love between Husband & Wife/Ahavat Ish v'Ishah, you are not going to get his full views on women or marriage unless you read the entire work because he sprinkles different or repeated ideas throughout, and there are vital messages in other chapters that aren't where you think they'd be.
May Hashem imbue us all with the knowledge, wisdom, & insight to understand.
How to Avoid being a Victim of Mind Control