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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Either/Or, but Both/And

Either/Or thinking is, in general, a waste of time.

For one thing, it's a logical fallacy to assume that there are only two possible answers to most questions. In nearly every discussion there are multiple answers with varying levels of validity.

It also immediately puts the discussion into the realm of right vs. wrong, which isn't a helpful spectrum on which to operate. If we are only concerned with being right, we won't entertain any other possibilities which actually increases the probability that we'll be wrong (more on that in a bit).

It's also a relationally destructive paradigm because conversations are reduced to competitions in which one party is the loser and the other the winner.

Both/And thinking offers more hope and certainty.

Looking at how both views can be right and wrong allows ideas to be placed on a continuum rather than set up as diametrically opposed. Seeing the continuum, or even a web of thoughts, provides not only a fuller understanding of the issue, but a better way of disagreeing.

Instead of pitting right versus wrong, a both/and view allows the strengths and weaknesses of different ideas to be expressed. However if you're stuck defending the "right" answer, you are likely to never see its inherent weaknesses nor to discover the strengths in other points of view. This is, in essence, what the church did with Copernicus and Galileo. Their emphasis on being right blinded them to the strengths in the argument of another. So they were unable to admit the weaknesses in their own argument and therefore drastically reduced their chances of being right.

Ultimately, both/and thinking seeks relationship over rightness. But that doesn't mean that rightness is sacrificed. Rather, when the relationship takes priority, it allows a forum for more ideas to be heard and a fuller understanding of the ideas to develop. Oddly, emphasizing relationship increases rightness.  

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