Last week I put out a fun challenge for Good Friday: repent of either-or thinking. It got a great response and a reader asked how one might pursue a conversation differently.
After a decade of trial and error, these are the three things (appropriately) I have found most helpful in breaking down the inherited dualisms: diagrams, vocabulary, and intentional complexification.
Diagrams: I am a believer in the power of shapes. I heard Len Sweet talk one time about how the two scientists that finally solved the riddle of DNA actually had all the necessary proteins and elements figured out for quite a while … but could not break the code. It wasn’t until they had that now famous shape – the double helix – that they were able to put the puzzle together.
I tell people
“You can have all the right content and be forcing it into the wrong shape.”
My use of the Venn last week to create 5 categories out of 2 would be an example of this. But it comes from a deep conviction that even when given 2 categories, there has to be more to the story – so look for a third. (The book Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen is excellent on this point).
Draw the person’s spectrum and then bend it (as I did here) for them. Take their two options and put it in a matrix (like the Urgent/Important matrix below). Just become convinced that there is too much data for it to be crammed into a pre-made little mold – it just won’t fit. You end up discarding too much data once your little tins are filled.
Vocabulary: When people are too familiar, too entrenched, and too comfortable, you may have to change the terms of the debate in order to unseat the status quo.
In the never ending Calvinist v Arminian debate that Calvinist love, I will teach them that Arminius was a Calvinist, but just ‘not calvin enough’ and then, in reaction, the Synod of Dort went more calvin than Calvin to come up with T.U.L.I.P. So when Calvinist portray all free-will theologies as Arminian, that is like an American saying that all non-republicans are democrats: its just not true. They are basically just two sides of the same coin … but certainly not representative of the whole array of options. If they want to read an actual Arminian they should check out Roger Olson and his book Against Calvinism. Once you know what a real Arminian looks like, you will stop mistaking everyone who is not Calvinist for one!
Intentional Complexification: Since dualism is destructive and deceptive, resolve to never let two contradictory-adversarial positions stand as the only options. Search far and wide, at all costs find a third option. Become inquisitive, Become imaginative. Who doesn’t see it this way?
In the abortion debate you must take away the entrenched or given labels that people assume are the only options. Pro-Life is usually just about one stage of life (unborn) and is less concerned about the life of the mother after her child’s birth, the education of the child 5 years after birth, our country’s foreign policy and being pro-life in an age of perpetual war, and the ever increasing rates of incarceration, death penalty, etc. To be pro-life you also have to be pro-health care, for education, against militarism, anti-death penalty and should probably do something about hand guns and assault rifles ( I’m not talking about your deer rifle Mr. NRA, that is not what is being used to kill people in these shootings).
If you don’t care about the health of the mother, the education of the child, the life of soldiers, and the life of inmates then you are not pro-life: you are just anti-abortion.
When I see the conversation being set up in an us v. them scenario, I will just boycott by saying “until a women has control over her own womb and she can walk away from a pregnancy like the fella can, we can not even have this conversation. It’s impossible.” I just won’t concede the terms and allow the conversation to be set up like that. It is a false binary and it never leads anywhere except ‘both’ sides (as if there is only 2) feeling justified in their own self-virtue.
So those are my 3 suggestions. I would love to hear what things you have found help us get out of the either/or rut and change the parameters conversation!
April 10, 2012 at 7:49 pm
That’s great stuff Bo. In fact those are strategies that I regularly employ to some degree or another. Here’s a question for you. Do you think our 1 vote, either-or, 2 party system leads to our dualistic (pro-life vs Pro-choice ect) culture, or is it the other way around?
April 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm
As much as I would want to say that the container (2 party system) creats the content (either/or) … I can not. It turns out that the Western mind is saturated in dualistic thought. It goes way back! The Western mind (European thought included) is so steeped in it that it was bound to come embedded in anything that imported.
My mentor Randy Woodley has a book coming out this Summer that deals with the issue. It is called ‘Shalom and the Kingdom of God’ – it is about the Hebrew notion of shalom and the Native American connection to ‘whole’ thinking. I carries an ihererant critique of dualism.
April 11, 2012 at 6:32 pm
That sounds interesting. Please post when the book is released. I’d like to check that out.