There is no either/or

I’m currently reading Ken Wilbers book No Boundary. The book states, that the boundaries we perceive in the world, are only products of our perception, and not really a part of the world.

Every time we divide the world into us and them, good and evil, right and wrong, guilty and innocent we’re creating divisions in our minds that are not part of the world itself. Thus, we increasingly see the world as it is not – which can hardly be a good thing.

This got me thinking about all the either/or thinking that I do, and that I see in others. And I have yet to find a single example of a valid either/or proposition. Let me explain.

The way I see it right now, every time you say “It’s either x or y”, you’re probably wrong.

In a business, is it most important to treat your customers right, or your employees? Should you focus on long-term or short-term profit? Should we choose strategy X or strategy Y?

In your own life, should children be brought up with discipline or in freedom? In schools, should children be learning systematically, or is it more important to let them express themselves? In any conflict, is one party ever 100% guilty and the other totally free of blame?

In each of these questions, there is no either/or answer. But we often try to find one. I think this tendency stems at least partly from our habit of boundary thinking. We want to be able to divide the world into manageable sections, and to make “safe” choices accordingly.

But the truth is that there are no boundaries. And quite often the best answer is not either/or. The best chocies comprise and respect both extremes.

And it’s not just a question of choosing the middle road. It’s a question of acknowledging the fact, that if you see the world as either/or then you’re probably not seeing it as it really is. And the more incorrect your worldview, the greate the risk of making bad choices.

This kind of thinking can also be used to resolve paradoxes. Many paradoxes are simply a result of perceiving borders that aren’t a part of the world. Let’s take an important question: Is it better to be selfish and do things for myself, or should i be unselfish and do good for others. I suspect that there is no border between your happiness and others peoples happiness. That in effect, you can’t be happy if everybody around you is miserable. If that is true, then doing good for others equates to being selfish, and the question disappears.

I see one danger stemming from this kind of thinking: It can lead to a postmodern, value-less worldview, in which no view or action can be said to be any better than any other. If there’s no real boundary between good and bad, then who cares what we think and do. This is wrong! Some people are better than others. Some choices are better than others. This should simply be a tool that allows you to make better choices.

Here’s a challenge for you: If you can think of a single example of valid either/or thinking, let me know. I’ve been trying to think of one, but I haven’t managed to so far.

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