Either/Or: Will it Ever End?

Republican or Democrat, Protestant or Catholic, right or wrong? That formulation is the basis of most human dialogue. Either I am right or I am wrong. More definitively, you are right or I am right. It can’t possibly be both.

And so it goes; family conflict, church conflict, health care policy, legislative reform. We must choose one position over the other. This false dichotomy has immobilized discourse and limited achievement and innovation. Why is it that debates can only be won or lost? To quote the haunting song from the 70’s, “Is that all there is?”

In the current national agony about “whither civility?”, the possibility of “both/and” has been ignored. Was Serena right or wrong? Was Kanye right or wrong? Who was right, Rep. Wilson or Pres. Obama? The trap we find ourselves in is our assumption that right is expressed through might, or vice versa. We have lost sight of the possibility that right and might are not mandatory corollaries.

Clearly, our culture affirms that being right justifies the exercise of might. In turn, the most mighty are bound to be right. Are we bound to follow this binary path to our destruction as a society?

Absolutely not. Transformative dialogue can shape new realities out of formerly intransigent positions. The essence of collaboration is being “hard on the issues and soft on the people”. investing deeply in the search for solutions to the issues that divide us and working hard to preserve the relationships we share is the definition of collaboration.

We can learn the skills of collaboration which are so obviously countercultural. We can take two great and diametrically opposed ideas and fashion them into an innovative new reality which is not defined by the limitations of either opposed position.

Note the management theories of six sigma and system theory. Two more opposing perspectives on organizational development and management excellence hardly could be conceived. Yet the evidence is mounting that successful business models are finding the way to merge these two strong forces into an exciting new tool for performance, productivity and profitability. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/business/06proto.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=six%20sigma&st=cse

What about health care, MTV awards, out of bounds calls, or “who’s in charge at church”? Can we collaborate even there? Why not give it a try? Our either/or tactics aren’t “advancing the ball.” very far down field.


One Response to Either/Or: Will it Ever End?

  1. Tammy Lenski says:

    I had to chuckle at the impeccable timing of this post. Not 10 minutes ago I was cautioning a friend about either/or thinking and the way it sets up false dichotomies. I think the sound-bite era in politics causes people in public office to oversimplify the story and feed this way of thinking — so glad you’re writing about this and raising both/and up for consideration.

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