Yes or No?

Yes or no? Oh, if only it was that simple!

A few months ago I noticed a billboard on my drive to one of my consulting gigs. It was sponsored by an organization that serves addicted individuals. The sign said, “It’s a disease, not a choice,” and upon reading it my first response was delight at the sight of a message designed to combat stigma. Yay, billboard! Keep battling the blame and shame that can keep so many addicted folks in the game.

I drove by that billboard a few times each week for perhaps a month without really thinking about its message – without recognizing its error. When I saw the error on the sign my eyes were opened to a very common error seen and heard in our conversations and our culture. This error, this habit of thought, is at the root of much of the painful divide that furls eyebrows, fuels arguments, and robs us of the sanctity of community.

The billboard was guilty of lazy logic. It reduced an incredibly complex issue into a binary problem. The sign implied that addiction was either a disease or a choice. Lazy logic is easy, quick, and wrong!

What four letter word do YOU see above? Some answers are complicated!

The vulnerability to addiction is an incredibly complex convergence of several factors. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ description of or solution for addiction. I’ve built a presentation for my group clinical work that tries to explain the factors that can create the foundation of a vulnerability to addiction, but that’s a post for another day (or better yet, come to group!) Suffice it to say that “A or B” thinking isn’t ever going to get to the root of such a nuanced, layered, multi-faceted issue as addiction.

But what other issues have we applied the lazy logic of binary thinking to? Whenever we reduce the options to two –

  • yes/no
  • good/evil
  • tall/short
  • right/wrong
  • right/left
  • nature/nurture
  • genetics/lifestyle…

…we’re moving away from understanding others and toward a place where it’s easier to judge others. (Another sign on my way to work today warned not to be so busy judging others that you don’t have time to love them.) Binary thinking is easy, lazy, common, and leads to misunderstanding and unnecessary division.

The answer to most questions in this world is neither “yes” nor “no!” I recently used a geographical example and said that between the mountain of black and the mountain of white, there is vast valley of gray. One of the participants in that group keenly pointed out that only the very peaks of the mountains in my illustration were black or white. He’s so right!

For every resounding “Always” and absolute “Never” there are countless cases where the real answer (convenient or not) is maybe, sometimes, usually, rarely, occasionally, under certain circumstances, most of the time, often, or it depends. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Take the time to try to understand before deciding, because quick deciding can lead to painful dividing.

Thanks for listening, and thank you for trying (along with me) to resist the temptation to know the ‘right answer’ because in many cases the answer isn’t binary.

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