So many of our troubles, personal and political, come from “either-or” thinking. For example, when I’m talking with a person who holds religious or political beliefs that differ from my own, either-or thinking can create a combative situation: “I’m right, so he/she is wrong. Therefore, my job is to win this argument by any means possible.” But ”both-and” thinking can lead to something much more creative: “Maybe I don’t have everything right, and maybe he/she doesn’t have everything wrong. Maybe both of us see part of the truth. If I speak and listen in that spirit, we both might learn something that will expand our understanding.”
Think of how much more civil and creative our conversations across lines of difference would be if we thought that way more often! We’d be working to create a container to hold our differences hospitably instead of trying to win an argument.
Of course, like everything human, this issue begins inside of us, in how we hold our own internal paradoxes. If we can’t hold our inner complexities as both-and instead of either-or, we can’t possibly extend that kind of hospitality to another person. Here’s an ancient truth about being human: we cannot give gifts to others that we are unable to give to ourselves! That’s why “inner work” done well is never selfish. Ultimately, it will benefit other people.
Parker Palmer, Holding Paradox