Beyond Either / Or

Beyond Either / Or

It has happened to you.

It has happened to me. 

When we lock into something we know is true, we spend vast amounts of energy defending it.

We fight the righteous fight, because “we are right.” We know this is the way things are, so don’t you dare go against it.

First of all, perhaps we could start with the question, “Is it true?” Then we can follow up with the question, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

This is The Work of Byron Katie. Whether you have done her worksheets or not, it is worth at least asking these two questions. When we are honest, in most cases, we find truth to be relative, not absolute. Perhaps there is no truth there to begin with.

Let me ask you a question

Are you a pessimist or an optimist? In other words, do you accuse others of ignoring the facts, or do you ask why the other is so negative?

That was a trick question. Pessimism or optimism is a false choice. Asking an either / or question is asking a question that puts us in conflict.

Lisa Earle McLeod says,

until we are willing to embrace the possibility of “and,” we are doomed to keep repeating the same conflicts over and over and over again.

The Triangle of Truth

She says that false choices tend to make life easier. However, by going the extra step to consider new opportunities and solutions, we can embrace the power of “and.”

I think of the saying: hope for the best and prepare for the worst

OR the variation by Denis Waitley: Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.

That combines optimism: hope for the best, with pessimism: being prepared for the worst. Surely, life always comes up with more possibilities. Therefore, we are surprised over and over again.

Embracing “and”

When we are asked to choose between two opposites, we are being asked to shut out one perspective. The choice may be presented as a polarity, a dilemma, a wicked problem, a paradox, or a chronic tension. I know how those words make me feel. How do you feel being presented with a dilemma?

We face this every day in many, many situations, in many, many ways:

change vs stability of what is here
individual vs community
proven vs cutting edge
conservative vs liberal
competence vs challenged
freedom vs responsibility

According to Polarity Partnerships, 

In today’s world of increasing interdependency and complexity, it is vital to utilize problem solving AND both/and thinking to address your most strategic challenges and opportunities.
It no longer works in our world to separate ourselves by our beliefs. We cannot hold on to just one side of the polarity, because we just cannot avoid it with the closeness to others in this world. We need both perspectives, both polarities.

One insight that comes from Polarity Management is that when one polarity is under-represented, trouble may be brewing. We actually need both polarities in order to bring out full creative solutions. If the polarities are lopsided, things may go too far in that direction. In a sense, the opposite polarity brings a balance, like yin and yang. 

By embracing both perspectives, both polarities, we can find the best of each and combine them in a new way to find a solution that works.

Think in another direction

This is NOT compromising. When you compromise, you give up the some of the value of your perspective, and expect the other side to do the same. 

If you put each polarity on opposite ends of a line, the compromise would be somewhere in the middle.

Instead, embracing “and” is asking us to go another direction. We can draw lines from the two points to the apex of a triangle. This apex takes the truth of each polarity and applies it to the situation at hand. It finds a new truth that integrates the polarities.

By integrating the polarities, we uncover a new truth. A truth that serves more people. A truth that is “more true,” in that it is more purely of the Source. 

The cutting edge of humanity is exploring life, creating more, in an Integral Movement.


We know that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. As our problems become ever more complex, more interconnected, and more global, it becomes increasingly clear that we need to find a whole new level of thinking and problem solving in order to meet the great challenges of our time. - Corey deVoss

The mottos of the integral community are

wake up: get present, mindful, and alive
grow up: new perspectives broaden mindset and drive an impact through career
clean up: emotional housecleaning that unleashes your real power
show up: listen, teach, persuade, and lead into the world you wish to see 

Integral life was co-founded by Ken Wilber, one of my heroes because he rolls philosophy, knowledge, and spiritual experience together in a way that makes sense to me. 

This is a complex subject. I find spending time with it very satisfying. There is an online summary of the Integral Approach. It is comprehensive, so I would suggest taking it little by little. This can be a subject of many many other blogs.

The thing to remember is that Integral includes and transcends what has come before us. It doesn’t reject one perspective or its opposite. One polarity is not considered obsolete. A new perspective of polarities maintains the truth of each in a bigger context.

The bigger context

It’s the bigger context that is like the apex of the triangle that gives it relevance in our world today. We don’t have to spend our time in tension with the polarities. We can rise to a new perspective.

Each of these resources mentioned here has tools to go beyond either/or thinking in our lives. The Work of Byron Katie helps us resolve conflicts in our lives by determining what is true and where we are judging, allowing us to drop it.

Lisa Earle McLeod has the Triangle of Truth book and many resources for business development from this perspective.

Polarity Management also has business resources, again starting with personal ability to incorporate the “and” perspective.

Integral Life has many experts in many fields, bringing together ways to help us all thrive.

Please comment below how you have gone beyond either/or thinking.