“Both/And” Thinking, Say What?

On a rainy spring day back in 1992, I sat in Dr. Ellen Berry’s English class in Mosely Hall at Bowling Green State University. Our desks were moved into a circle and we were discussing one of the books we were reading – something either by Doris Lessing or Margaret Atwood – I’m not sure which anymore. It was the last semester or my senior year. I was 22 years old. I don’t remember much from that course, although I recall I didn’t care for Lessing, and except for the Handmaid’s Tale, I enjoyed Atwood, but what I do remember from that day was profound and made an impact on my way of thinking. You see, this was the first time I’d ever heard of the concept of “both”/”and” thinking.

You may be asking yourself now, what does that mean? Both/and thinking is a logical concept that is different than the either/or construct that our culture indoctrinated us in from an early age. Either/or thinking leads us down the path of looking at the solutions to a problem as good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. You are either liberal or conservative. A theisist or an atheisist. A patriot or a traitor. This binary way of thinking polarizes people and stalls decision making. While both/and thinking allows for more than one idea to co-exist together allowing for a multitude of possibilities. For example, instead of choosing either chocolate ice cream or vanilla ice cream, you can have both chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream, which becomes chocolate on the bottom and vanilla on top, which becomes chocolate on the left side and vanilla on the right side and morphs into the perfect twist. (I do love ice cream.) I know this is a simplistic example, but you get the idea.

Unlike compromise, which requires both parties to give up something to come to an agreement, both/and think let’s both ideas exist together. When trying to make decisions and come up with solutions, you try to figure out how you can combine both concepts and come up with something better then either concept on its own. I think a lot of political, religious and policy issues could be resolved, making our world a better place if people focused more on the idea of both/and and left either/or behind. It is easy to fall into the either/or trap, but just this slight change in perspective can make a huge difference in how we interact with each other.

I think the meme above illustrates the both/and principle well. Equality and equity for marginalized people whether because of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their citizenship status, their religion, or their disabiltiy does not take away the rights of the majority. It is not an us versus them construct. Equity and equality for all is a both/and concept not an either/or concept. Fair wages, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, food security, inclusion and community, and a safe home/work environment are non-negotiables that should be available to everyone. There is enough to go around. It’s not pie. We need to elect government officials that prescribe to both/and thinking to make this happen. And when, they don’t we need to elect someone that will. Maybe someday that someone will be me.

What do you think?

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