I’ve watched the school-reopening debate grateful that my own child is well past compulsory education age. What strikes me about the debate (it never seems to be a discussion) is the forced-choice quality: Either we re-open schools, OR we bludgeon an already ailing economy (meaning Main Street, I suppose, because Wall Street is largely doing fine).
The benefit of forced-choice thinking is that it can make us re-evaluate priorities. Just how important is education for a child on the schedule we all grew up with? Socialization? Access to supportive services? Was Main Street dying anyway, and might the pandemic simply speed up to the inevitable? When we’re faced with lady or the tiger decisions, we focus on what matters to most us and why.
The downside of binary thinking is that we oversimplify, ignore nuances, and become polarized. Maskers vs. Anti-maskers, vaxxers vs. anti-vaxxers. The versus gets more emphasis than it deserves, and become a means of identifying people rather than positions on issues. I met an older, white, male US citizen the other day who described himself as “very conservative,” but he’d spent 15 years raising a family in Costa Rica, and said, hands down, their universal health care approach made much more sense than the racket we have going here. That is not a position the typical “very conservative,” white, male, older, American would espouse.
So binary thinking leads to inaccurate labels. The other downside of binary thinking is that it creates false dichotomies. I was told I had to study classic piano or jazz. I studied both. I had to choose between Spanish, Latin, and German in terms of language classes in high school. I studied all three. I was supposed too choose ONE major in college, I ended up with a B.S. in political science, and B. Music in Music History, because I was interested in both (and very lucky to be able to afford the extra classes, but forty years ago, college was affordable).
The false dichotomies were presented to me as fiat, as reality, as How We Do It, but once you sniff out one or two false dichotomies, you get a nose for them, and a nose for the road less traveled that lies between, around, and under them. You can be a patriot who favors gun safety reform, a soldier who hates war, a conservative in favor of universal health care. You can look for solutions instead of divisions, and that is much more the sort of person I want to be.
Have you ever had to blast through a false dichotomy? Plow new ground, stand a problem on its head? Have you ever had to tell somebody, “I’m doing it anyway.” Have you ever wished you could? To three commenters, I’ll send an eARC of My Heart’s True Delight.