The secular world teaches us to see things in black and white. This, not that. I’m a Democrat. You’re a Republican. I’m a Conservative. You’re a Liberal. I’m right, and if you’d only see things my way, you’d come to the light.
This either/or way of viewing life divides us. It puts us into boxes. It spills over into the way we view the world and our ourselves. It shoves us into dualism.
Either/or thinking is a fallacy that presents two opposing options as the only options. You’re either for us or you’re against us. Often, however, the tension between two opposites can bring about a third, more creative, resolution to a situation—if we allow it to unfold.
For example, if we look at ourselves as either good or bad, flawed or perfect, we adopt a false notion about ourselves. We limit our understanding of who we really are.
The I’m flawed view continuously rubs our noses in our shortcomings. The I’m perfect lens eliminates any possibility for growth.
A both-and perspective allows us to view ourselves honestly. It’s a holistic approach that invites us to acknowledge we’re made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, we are good. However, at times we screw up, and in those times of messiness, we can look back and determine how wisdom invites us to grow. This both-and perspective allows us to be who we are: human and divine—perfectly human.
God reveals this both-and pattern in nature. He gave us the sun and the moon to balance the tides, to carve out time for rest and activity. He created darkness and light. He made us both human (with flesh and bones) and divine (created and guided by God’s love and wisdom).
The both-and pattern is also embodied through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Through this historic event, God revealed the beauty of humanity and showed us that in the face of our failures, God’s unconditional love makes all things new.
As we mature, we recognize the limitations of either/or thinking and move instead toward a both-and perspective. We’re able to identify and hold the tension of opposites as a holy tension. And when we recognize the piece of truth each opposite contains, we can then put them together and discover the Whole. In doing so, we become Whole-makers.
Perhaps a new era of whole-making is evolving as we learn to move individually and collectively beyond dualistic either/or thinking. Maybe it’s time we git our “both-and” on.
Ponder: Either/or thinking often limits us. It hides the whole. Both-and thinking allows us to see the partial truth of each opposite and then put them together to create a whole.
Practice: Notice when you get stuck in either/or thinking. When you do, name the two opposites, and then put them together by applying both-and thinking to discover the deeper truth the opposites reveal.
—brian j plachta