In a culture pushing dichotomies and separation we must remember that the answer is almost never either/or, but almost always both/and. It is invariably somewhere in the middle, and it always depends.
– M. M. Racho
Though we have been trained throughout our lives to think in dichotomies, I try my damnedest to reject them. They put us in boxes. They limit our scope and stifle our thinking. The moment we begin to define something, it is possible that we are actually minimizing the potential we have to discover what that thing truly is – including ourselves. This seems to me to be the case for almost everything in life and for every one of our fabricated answers.
As humans, we have an insatiable desire to understand and explain. In this noble quest however, we often create dichotomies or paradigms with which to view the world that don’t need to exist or that facilitate inaccurate explanations. Perhaps it’s political or vanity or our desire for critical inquiry or any combination of all three. Whatever the reason and despite the fact that in many instances we have discovered or created dichotomies that do exist and are indeed useful to our understanding of the world, there are many instances (probably more than not) that have only muddled our thinking and closed the horizon of possibilities actually presented to us. A number of prominent dichotomies rampant in today’s society come to mind:
- Science or logic versus experience
- Spiritual versus physical
- Good versus evil
- Nature versus nurture
- Republican versus Democrat
- Free will versus determinism
- Sane versus insane
- Healthy versus unhealthy
- Right versus wrong
- You versus me
- Us versus them
- Yes versus no
- I could go on but you get the point.
Our definitions of the world, our lives, and our experiences not only divert us from the essence of the truth we seek; they also create anxiety. Despite the fact that many of the constructs we’ve created and grasped to have proven false as a result of experiential reality, they have wreaked havoc in the meantime. If I commit some offensive act in my life, I am trained to experience guilt. And although some amount of guilt might be appropriate, I might manipulate what happened in order to assuage the feeling. “It was so out of character for me. I’m not like that.” This type of thinking is dichotic and places me, the actor, opposite the act. In reality or truth of course, I acted exactly like myself – for whom else could I be?
Every person – and I mean every single person – is comprised of some good (however you choose to define it) and some bad (however you choose to define it). The line between good and evil lies at the center of every human heart (I’m not sure where I heard this but I love it). If we understood and accepted this, we would be much less anxious in our daily lives and in our definitions and ideas of our selves. We would more readily be able to accept others and ourselves. And, by the way, not understanding this is a very dangerous place to be. It’s where dehumanizing begins and therein a multitude of insidious other beliefs.
The gross oversimplifications of our lives do us no justice and diminish the space within which we live. Rather than divide ourselves, our lives and each other into splintering factions, let us begin to lean into a dimensional paradigm. We ought to resist the urge to define everything in categorical or black and white terms. To steal from Whitman – we are large and contain multitudes. Let’s remember that and let’s embrace it.
And in regards to the answers we are all looking for, perhaps it’s not one or the other. Perhaps it’s both or a third or a twelfth we’ve not yet considered. In the meantime and as any Buddhist will tell you, the questions are so much more important than the answers. We need to learn to be a bit more comfortable residing outside of the lines we’ve created – in the gray, in the middle, in the unknown. That is, after all, where most of the answers tend to lie, where balance and harmony are struck, and where most of life is lived.
“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”